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Luxury EV maker Lucid appears to have a demand problem

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People test drive Dream Edition P and Dream Edition R electric vehicles at the Lucid Motors plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, September 28, 2021.
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Caitlin O’Hara | Reuters

Luxury electric vehicle maker Lucid appears to have a demand problem.
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The company said during its fourth-quarter earnings report Wednesday that it had “over 28,000” reservations for its Air sedan as of Feb. 21. That was a surprise, given that the company had claimed “over 34,000” reservations in November and delivered fewer than 2,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter.

Even more surprising: Lucid said it plans to build just 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles in 2023, far fewer than the roughly 27,000 Wall Street analysts had expected — and than the roughly 34,000 vehicles per year that Lucid’s factory is set up to build.

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Shares of the company have fallen about 15% since the Wednesday report.

Lucid faced a rough road getting the Air into production. The company spent much of the first half of 2022 scrambling to secure key components and untangling logistics snags. Now, with production running more or less smoothly, it seems to be facing a new problem: Not enough of its reservations are converting to orders.

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CEO Peter Rawlinson acknowledged as much during the earnings call when he reminded listeners that reservations aren’t binding.

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

“We’ve solved production. That is not the gating issue here now,” Rawlinson said. “My focus is on sales. And here’s the thing: We’ve got what I believe to be the very best product in the world. … Too few people are aware of not just the car, but even the company.”

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Rawlinson went on to say he believes that to be an “entirely solvable problem” and plans to focus on “amplifying customer awareness” in 2023.

More marketing might help. But clearly, demand for Lucid’s vehicles isn’t materializing as quickly as the company expected, which raises some tough questions for investors.

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First, how big is Lucid’s potential market? Any estimate of how much Lucid could grow has to start with an estimate of the “total addressable market,” and it appears the company’s estimates on that front may have been too rosy, given that its factory is set up to produce many more vehicles than it’s building now.

Running an auto factory well below capacity isn’t exactly a route to profitability, as Chief Financial Officer Sherry House conceded during Lucid’s earnings call.

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“As we produce vehicles at low volumes on production lines designed for higher volumes, we have and we will continue to experience negative gross profit related to labor and overhead costs,” House said.

That leads to a second, related question: How long will Lucid have to run its factory at a loss? Or, put another way, how long will it take Lucid to get to profitability — and how much money will it have to raise between now and then?

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Bank of America analyst John Murphy has long been bullish on Lucid, but in a note to investors following Lucid’s earnings report, he cut the bank’s rating on the stock to hold, from buy. Murphy wrote that he now thinks Lucid won’t break even before 2027, and that the company will need to raise more capital sooner than he had previously expected.

The good news is that Lucid has a deep-pocketed investor. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund owns about 62% of Lucid, and has shown — most recently in December, when it invested an additional $915 million — that it’s still willing to fund the company. As long as it has the Saudi fund’s backing, Lucid should be able to keep going.

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But the road to profitability — and to a big payday for Lucid’s investors — is now looking longer.



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Virgin Orbit extends unpaid pause as Brown deal collapses, ‘dynamic’ talks continue

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NEWQUAY, ENGLAND – JANUARY 09: A general view of Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400 aircraft carrying the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, as final preparations are made at Cornwall Airport Newquay on January 9, 2023 in Newquay, United Kingdom. Virgin Orbit launches its LauncherOne rocket from the spaceport in Cornwall, marking the first ever orbital launch from the UK. The mission has been named Start Me Up after the Rolling Stones hit. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
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Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Virgin Orbit is again extending its unpaid pause in operations to continue pursuing a lifeline investment, CEO Dan Hart told employees in a company-wide email.
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Some of the company’s late-stage deal talks, including with private investor Matthew Brown, collapsed over the weekend, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

Hart previously planned to update employees on the company’s operational status at an all-hands meeting at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon, according to an email sent to employees Sunday night. At the last minute, that meeting was rescheduled “for no later than Thursday,” Hart said in the employee memo Monday.

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“Our investment discussions have been very dynamic over the past few days, they are ongoing, and not yet at a stage where we can provide a fulsome update,” Hart wrote in the email to employees, which was viewed by CNBC.

Brown told CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange” last week he was in final discussions to invest in the company. A person familiar with the terms told CNBC the investment would have amounted to $200 million and granted Brown a controlling stake. But discussions between Virgin Orbit and the Texas-based investor stalled and broke down late last week, a person familiar told CNBC. As of Saturday those discussions had ended, the person said.

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Separately, another person said talks with a different potential buyer broke down on Sunday night.

The people asked to remain anonymous to discuss private negotiations. A representative for Virgin Orbit declined to comment.

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Hart promised Virgin Orbit’s over 750 employees “daily” updates this week. Most of the staff remain on an unpaid furlough that Hart announced on Mar. 15. Last week, a “small” team of Virgin Orbit employees returned to work in what Hart described as the “first step” in an “incremental resumption of operations,” with the intention of preparing a rocket for the company’s next launch.

Virgin Orbit’s stock closed at 54 cents a share on Monday, having fallen below $1 a share after the company’s pause in operations.

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Virgin Orbit developed a system that uses a modified 747 jet to send satellites into space by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight. But the company’s last mission suffered a mid-flight failure, with an issue during the launch causing the rocket to not reach orbit and crash into the ocean.

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The company has been looking for new funds for several months, with majority owner Sir Richard Branson unwilling to fund the company further.

Virgin Orbit was spun out of Branson’s Virgin Galactic in 2017 and counts the billionaire as its largest stakeholder, with 75% ownership. Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign wealth fund, holds the second-largest stake in Virgin Orbit, at 18%.

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The company hired bankruptcy firms to draw up contingency plans in the event it is unable to find a buyer or investor. Branson has first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets, as the company raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Virgin Group.

On the same day that Hart told employees that Virgin Orbit was pausing operations, its board of directors approved a “golden parachute” severance plan for top executives, in case they are terminated “following a change in control” of the company.

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Disney layoffs will begin this week, CEO Bob Iger says in memo

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Bob Iger, CEO, Disney, during CNBC interview, Feb. 9, 2023.
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Randy Shropshire | CNBC

Disney will begin layoffs this week, the first of three rounds before the beginning of the summer that result in about 7,000 job cuts, according to a memo sent by Chief Executive Bob Iger.
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The cuts are part of a broader effort to reduce corporate spending and boost free cash flow. Disney said last month it plans to cut $5.5 billion in costs, including $3 billion in content spend.

“This week, we begin notifying employees whose positions are impacted by the company’s workforce reductions,” Iger wrote in the memo, which was obtained by CNBC. “Leaders will be communicating the news directly to the first group of impacted employees over the next four days. A second, larger round of notifications will happen in April with several thousand more staff reductions, and we expect to commence the final round of notifications before the beginning of the summer to reach our 7,000-job target.”

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The layoffs were initially announced in February. The job cuts will be cross-company, hitting Disney’s media and distribution division, parks and resorts, and ESPN.

Disney is following the lead of Warner Bros. Discovery and other legacy media companies that are cutting jobs and spending. Disney has said its streaming business, led by Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, will stop losing money in 2024. Disney shares are up about 8% this year after falling 44% last year.

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“We have made the difficult decision to reduce our overall workforce by approximately 7,000 jobs as part of a strategic realignment of the company, including important cost-saving measures necessary for creating a more effective, coordinated and streamlined approach to our business,” Iger wrote. “For our employees who aren’t impacted, I want to acknowledge that there will no doubt be challenges ahead as we continue building the structures and functions that will enable us to be successful moving forward.”

Since returning as CEO, Iger has reorganized the company and acknowledged that he’d consider selling Hulu. Disney will host its annual shareholder meeting April 3.

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Read Iger’s full memo:

Dear Fellow Employees,

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As I shared with you in February, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our overall workforce by approximately 7,000 jobs as part of a strategic realignment of the company, including important cost-saving measures necessary for creating a more effective, coordinated and streamlined approach to our business. Over the past few months, senior leaders have been working closely with HR to assess their operational needs, and I want to give you an update on those efforts.

This week, we begin notifying employees whose positions are impacted by the company’s workforce reductions. Leaders will be communicating the news directly to the first group of impacted employees over the next four days. A second, larger round of notifications will happen in April with several thousand more staff reductions, and we expect to commence the final round of notifications before the beginning of the summer to reach our 7,000-job target. 

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The difficult reality of many colleagues and friends leaving Disney is not something we take lightly. This company is home to the most talented and dedicated employees in the world, and so many of you bring a lifelong passion for Disney to your work here. That’s part of what makes working at Disney so special. It also makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye to wonderful people we care about. I want to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to every departing employee for your numerous contributions and your devotion to this beloved company. 

For our employees who aren’t impacted, I want to acknowledge that there will no doubt be challenges ahead as we continue building the structures and functions that will enable us to be successful moving forward. I ask for your continued understanding and collaboration during this time. 

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In tough moments, we must always do what is required to ensure Disney can continue delivering exceptional entertainment to audiences and guests around the world – now, and long into the future. Please know that our HR partners and leaders are committed to creating a supportive and smooth process every step of the way.

I want to thank each of you again for all your many achievements here at The Walt Disney Company. 

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Sincerely,

Bob

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Chipotle to pay ex-employees $240,000 after closing Maine location that tried to unionize

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Chipotle restaurant in Teterboro, New Jersey.
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Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to pay $240,000 to the former employees of an Augusta, Maine, location as part of a settlement for closing the restaurant when workers tried to unionize.
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Chipotle denied wrongdoing, despite settling the lawsuit with the federal labor board and the union.

“We settled this case not because we did anything wrong, but because the time, energy and cost to litigate would have far outweighed the settlement agreement,” Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in a statement to CNBC on Monday.

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Employees at the Chipotle restaurant filed a petition to unionize under Chipotle United in late June, becoming the chain’s first outlet to do so. Prior to the filing, workers had already walked out in protest of working conditions and understaffing.

Less than a month later, Chipotle closed the restaurant, citing staffing issues and saying it respected workers’ right to organize. However, in November, the National Labor Relations Board found that the burrito chain violated federal labor law when it closed the restaurant and stopped organizers from being hired at its other locations in the state.

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While Chipotle United counted the settlement announced Monday as a win, it fell short of reopening the closed location.

Now, former employees at the shuttered Augusta location will receive between $5,800 to $21,000 from Chipotle, dependant on their average hours, pay rate and the length of their tenure. Chipotle will also offer to put all of those workers on a preferential hiring list for other Maine locations for one year.

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Roughly 40 stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts will have notices posted saying it won’t close stores or discriminated based on union support. Those locations are under the leadership of the Chipotle regional manager who blackballed pro-union workers from jobs at other locations, according to Chipotle United, which is not affiliated with any larger unions.

To date, just one Chipotle location has successfully unionized. A restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, voted in August to unionize under the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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The burrito chain hasn’t seen an avalanche of union petitions after organizers’ initial win in Michigan, unlike Starbucks, which has seen more than 290 locations unionize in a little over a year. But Starbucks Workers United has accused the company of employing similar anti-union tactics, including shuttering stores. The coffee chain denies all allegations of union busting, although former CEO Howard Schultz is set to testify Wednesday in front of a Senate panel about the company’s behavior.

— CNBC’s Kate Rogers contributed to this report.

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