A colleague asked me to look into the securities offering of Elio Motors in Phoenix, Arizona. The company is one of the first to register shares to be sold under the new Regulation A.
Reg. A allows smaller companies to raise up to $50 million without the use of an underwriter. Elio is selling its shares directly to investors through a Crowdfunding platform called StartEngine.
Elio is attempting to raise $25 million making it one of the largest direct to investor financings to date. Many people in and around the Crowdfunding industry are anticipating the offering’s success.
Elio claims to be a designer, developer and manufacturer of highly efficient, low cost automobiles. The company intends to offer a 3 wheeled, gas powered vehicle that will get 84 MPG and cost roughly $6800.
It certainly sounds good and from the pictures that accompany the offering the vehicles look pretty good as well. The company says that it hopes to be delivering its vehicles to consumers by the end of this year.
Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely. The company currently has only a few drive-able early prototypes of its vehicles. It does not have a full production prototype, a final design, a built-out manufacturing facility or manufacturing processes. Even with this financing, the company will still need another quarter of a billion dollars to get its manufacturing facility into production.
I reviewed the prospectus and made a note of a number of “red flags” – items that seemed a little off base to me. A number of things caught my eye.
First, the company is insolvent and will continue to be insolvent even after investors put in $25 million. Investors will pay $12 per share and each share will have a negative book value and no liquidity for a long time to come.
Roughly $10 million is owed and due to an affiliate of a large shareholder within the next 6 months. That loan is already over due and subject to a forbearance agreement. If the agreement is not renewed roughly 1/2 of the proceeds of this offering will revert to the lender.
The company hopes to obtain a $165 million loan under a federal government program intended to help existing auto manufacturers expand their businesses. If unsuccessful in obtaining this loan Elio will need to find that much and more, elsewhere.
The government program was intended to help Ford and GM when they were having financial difficulty back in 2008/2009.The program is specifically designed to have low upfront borrowing costs. Elio is paying a lobbyist $1 million to help them to get funding under the program in addition to the lobbyist presently on staff. Perhaps the company does not believe that it could obtain the loan if the government agency judged the company solely on its merits.
There does not appear to be a single dollar of professional venture capital in this company. The company says this is because the venture capital industry moved away from investing in new vehicle startups. Personally, I believe it was because the venture capital industry spotted Elio as a loser or worse, a scam.
There are no patents. Despite years and millions of dollars worth of designs and modifications Elio does not have anything that it deems to be worth patenting. That always begs the question of whether or not their designs infringe on anyone else’s patents.
Perhaps the most disconcerting issue is that the company currently funds itself by taking vehicle deposits from consumers. The company has taken in more than $20 million in deposits from in excess of 45,000 people promising to deliver vehicles for which it does not yet have a final design and still needs up to a quarter of a billion dollars to produce.
The sales projections seem very rich. In order to get its retail price to $6,800 the company is projecting 250,000 units sold annually, meaning sales would be about $1.7 billion. With competition from other larger automotive manufacturers this number even if attainable would seem difficult to sustain.
No one apparently conducted a real due diligence review. StartEngine is not a FINRA firm and cannot be expected to conduct a due diligence review that is up to FINRA standards. The name of the law firm that prepared the offering is not disclosed. Experience suggests that this prospectus is not the product of one of the large Wall Street law firms.
Interestingly, Elio will pay a FINRA firm, FundAmerica Securities, to conduct due diligence on the investors to make certain that they comply with the SEC’s rules regarding how much they can purchase. FundAmerica Securities will receive up to about $950,000 for this service. (For the record, I would have cheerfully performed this administrative task for about ½ the cost).
No similar fee is being paid to anyone to verify the statements in the prospectus and to make certain that all appropriate disclosures have been made. Due diligence can be expensive and the amount spent, if material, would likely be disclosed.
If fully subscribed, this offering will cost Elio about $2.4 million which is about what it would have cost if the offering had been done in the traditional way by a FINRA firm using salespeople. The offering would have been subjected to real due diligence and if it passed more likely than not would have sold out before the end of last year.
I suspect that the “crowd” will buy up all of the shares that Elio is selling, not because the crowd knows what it is doing, but because most people would not know an investment scam if it bit them on the butt.
As I said, a lot of people in the Crowdfunding industry are waiting for Elio to sell its shares as an indication of how the Crowdfunding industry has progressed. The industry would be better served if got behind companies that offered investors a better chance of success.