Source: Michael Vi / Shutterstock.com
The story of QuantumScape (NYSE:QS) stock illustrates the problem of investing in science or engineering, and in any “pre-revenue” company.
My son is now a scientist. It’s a difficult business. He comes home frustrated many evenings. Things don’t always work. Failure is most definitely an option.
Engineering to scale scientific theories is just as difficult. The science behind solid-state batteries is clear. QuantumScape has been working to engineer products from it for 13 years.
In 2020 QuantumScape claimed a “major breakthrough” using a ceramic separator between cells. Three years later, it still lacks a commercial product.
In his most recent letter to shareholders, CEO Jagdeep Singh said there has been great progress, but there remain improvements that must be made before it has a commercial product.
Investors are running out of patience. Don’t waste your time and money on QS stock, writes InvestorPlace contributor David Moadel.
It’s hard to blame him.
Time vs. Engineering
In The Things We Make, Bill Hammack describes the problem. Engineering has deadlines. Science does not. When engineering can’t meet arbitrary deadlines, when it becomes more like science, you have a problem.
Singh built QuantumScape with investor capital. Such capital has been scarce since the Federal Reserve began hiking interest rates. QuantumScape still had nearly $1 billion in cash and securities at the end of March, but $63 million in cash went out the door last quarter, and $47 million the quarter before.
InvestorPlace analyst Louis Navellier illustrates the investor mindset. For the three months ending in March, “QuantumScape’s total operating expenses increased from $90.657 million in 2022’s first quarter to $109.978 million in the first quarter of 2023.” His conclusion? “The company should consider cost containment instead of spending more.”
Uh, no, Singh would respond. He’s so close to having something incredibly valuable, a 24-layer stack of anodes and cathodes instead of the current single-layer cells. The problem is you need high, consistent manufacturing quality for these new cathodes, and they must maintain performance even with the higher loads made necessary
It’s an engineering problem. But solutions don’t just appear. Thomas Edison said he found hundreds of ways not to make a light bulb. But as Hammack notes, 20th century bulbs don’t use what he invented. They use tungsten. Finding a way to use tungsten is what made bulbs work in the mass market.
The Need for Patience
If QuantumScape can solve its engineering problems, it will have a “forever battery” that will change the industry, as InvestorPlace analyst Luke Lango writes. Dependence on lithium-ion technology and global lithium supplies will disappear. This will change the world, not just EVs. It will cut the cost of storing wind and solar power. It will let the grid be rebuilt around intermittent energy.
Recent scientific results indicate QuantumScape can deliver a two-layer cell with higher energy density, able to recharge more times than anything else in the market. QuantumScape is pivoting to produce these smaller batteries that don’t have the engineering challenges of larger ones. That’s why it’s spending more money now than before.
The Bottom Line on QS Stock
QuantumScape was born and came public in a world where interest rates were near zero. This made funding science and complex engineering through public equity make sense.
It doesn’t anymore. You can’t raise equity affordably on hope of a breakthrough.
QuantumScape’s current cash runway may be all it can get. Even its sale to a larger company, like Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), would come at a discount that may not bail out current investors.
You must hope the team can come up with a product before it runs out of money. Unless that happens, you’re throwing good money after bad. If it does, you’re rich. That’s the bet.
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 InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.