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Is Li Auto Stock China’s Ticket to Global EV Domination?

Li Auto (NASDAQ:LI) stock is probably worth a look here.

The EV maker has emerged in 2023 as the leader among China’s Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) wannabes.

But American investors know little about the company, or its founder, beyond the financial results.

As I have been reporting at InvestorPlace, those results have been excellent. Li made 133,000 cars in 2022. It hopes to make 2 million in 2025 and (most important) it’s making a profit.

But the man behind this success remains something of a mystery.

LI Li Auto $29.05

The Xiang Li Story

Xiang Li was born in 1981 in Yueyang, part of Hunan province. He ducked college for a business career after his first start-up brought him 10 times the income of his parents at the age of 18.

A few years later he launched Autohome (NASDAQ:ATHM), but gave up his CEO role to a Harvard graduate who sold a majority interest in it to an Australian telco.

Li put some of his Autohome money into Nio (NYSE:NIO), joining its board, then left Autohome to found Li Auto, first called Chehejia (it means “car and home”). The company’s current name is a homonym of Li’s own name and means “ideal.”

What distinguishes Li stock from its rivals is flexibility. The company started out to make tiny cars like the Wuling Hoangguan Mini. It switched to an SUV called the Li One, a “plug-in hybrid” with a gas engine, in 2019.

The latest SUV, called the L9, has everything an electric car buyer wants, including an end to range anxiety. It has two electric motors but also maintains a gas engine, meaning it can go 817 miles on a charge.

It’s equipped with a range of sensors for safety. Li himself is said to be an admirer of what Tesla is doing in automated driving but wants to develop an all-Chinese solution.

Li Stock Looks Good Here

It’s Li’s willingness to change course in reaction to market conditions that has set Li Auto apart from its rivals. The focus now is on capturing the top end of the Chinese EV market before moving toward exports.

The L9 has proven popular with affluent Chinese buyers and is the only Chinese luxury EV to be taking market share away from Tesla. Li refuses to engage in a price war that is hurting rivals and profits are accelerating.

Now, Li is taking a page from Huawei’s book, reorganizing around software, manufacturing, service, and research units. The company is increasing hiring aimed at automated driving and Li now believes electrics will have 80% of China’s car market in 2025.

I see another key to Li success, Xiang Li’s willingness to completely follow the Chinese Communist Party line. Li is working to create an all-Chinese supply chain just as the U.S. makes itself less dependent on China. Li is also continuing to do business in Russia.

The Bottom Line

Li is still just 42, meaning he has no memory of China before capitalism. He’s compared with Mao Kankan of digital games company MaJoy, venture capitalist Gao Ran, and Internet forum founder Dai Zhikang.

Li, however, is more aligned with the policies of the Xi Jinping government than his contemporaries. This will make Li Auto a domestic champion as the industry scales and prepares to tackle the global market.

That’s good news and bad news for investors considering Li Auto stock. It’s good news because Li is well-positioned, not just for the Chinese market but for the world market. It’s bad news if you distrust China and its government because Li is Chinese to its core.

On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held no positions in any companies mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the Publishing Guidelines.