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Ecotality management discusses Q1 2013 financial results

ECOtality (ECTY)

Q1 2013 Earnings Call

May 15, 2013 4:30 pm ET


H. Ravi Brar – Chief Executive Officer, President and Director

Susie Herrmann – Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance


Matt Koranda – Roth Capital Partners, LLC, Research Division

Ross Silver – Vista Partners LLC

Jeremy Hellman



Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Thank you for standing by, and welcome to the ECOtality’s conference call to discuss its results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2013. Joining us today are Ravi Brar, the President and CEO of ECOtality; and Susie Herrmann, the company’s CFO. [Operator Instructions]

Before we begin today’s call, I would like to provide the company’s Safe Harbor statement with important cautions regarding forward-looking statements made during this call. Remarks made on this call may have contained forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 as amended in Section 21A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. All forward-looking statements are inherently uncertain as they are based on certain expectations and assumptions concerning future events or future performance of the company. Listeners are cautioned not to place undue reliance on the forward-looking statements which are only predictions and speak only as of the date hereof. In evaluating such statements, prospective investors should review carefully various risks and uncertainties identified in the conference call and the matters stated in the company’s SEC filings. These risks and uncertainties could cause the company’s actual results to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements.

I would like to remind everyone that this call is being recorded and will be available for replay through May 21, 2013, starting later this evening by visiting the Investor Relations section of the company’s website at

Now I would like to turn the call over to President and CEO of ECOtality, Mr. Ravi Brar. Sir, please go ahead.

H. Ravi Brar

Thank you, Alicia. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining our call. In the first quarter, we generated record revenue and grew the size of the Blink network by nearly 20%. Having provided an update on our progress just a few weeks ago, today, I’d like to spend some time discussing our operational momentum and strategic initiatives designed to support the growth of our 3 complementary product and service offerings: Blink, Minit-Charger and eTec Labs. And as you know, this year, our business will undergo a considerable transition. We are laser-focused on wrapping up our commitments under The EV Project and even more focused, to a greater extent, on growing our network and our annuity on a go-forward basis by executing on our business model.

The EV Project has provided us with a solid foundation to build upon. And we expect the steps we have implemented in Q1 to leverage and expand our network and put us in a position to benefit from future growth in usage and subscription fees that will provide us with a recurring and predictable revenue streams.

We also turned our attention to further monetizing our Minit-Charger and eTec Labs product and service offerings, where we see additional growth opportunities. Before I delve into our strategy and introduce some of the metrics by which we can better understand our model and track our progress, I’d like to turn the call over to our CFO, Susie Herrmann, who will briefly take us through the financial results. Susie?

Susie Herrmann

Thank you, Ravi. Our revenue in the first quarter of 2013 increased 16% to $15.9 million from $13.7 million in the first quarter of 2012. Product revenues were up $0.5 million to $1.9 million related to sales of our Minit-Charger products, and service revenues were up $4.4 million to $14 million. The increase in first quarter service revenues is primarily driven by an additional $4.2 million in revenues over Q1 2012 from The EV Project relating to the continued rollout of our Blink network of charging stations. License revenue in Q1 2012 was $2.6 million. We did not have any similar licensing revenue in Q1 2013. Approximately 77% or $12.2 million of our total Q1 2013 revenue was attributable to work performed under The EV Project.

Gross margin in Q1 2013 was relatively flat compared to the same period last year at approximately 37%. Of note, in the 2012 period, we benefited from $2.6 million in license revenue at no direct cost compared with the first quarter of 2013 in which we did not receive any such licensing revenue. Excluding license revenue, Q1 2012 margins would have been 23%. That said, the overall quarter-over-quarter gross margin improvement, excluding Q1 2012 license revenue is largely attributable to an increased percentage of DOE contract revenues related to reporting of cost share for incoming costs, for which we incur minimal cost.

Total operating expenses for the first quarter of 2013 were flat at $6.4 million. Sales and marketing expenses were $1.2 million for Q1 2013, reflecting minimal change from the same period last year. R&D expenses were also relatively unchanged year-over-year at $0.5 million in Q1 2013 versus $0.3 million in Q1 2012.

Our G&A costs for Q1 2013 decreased slightly to $4.8 million compared with $4.9 million in Q1 2012. Other income of $2.4 million in the first quarter of 2012 reflects the value attributable to certain items provided for in a licensing agreement we entered into with ABB.

For the first quarter of 2013, we did not receive any comparable other income. Net loss for the first quarter of 2013 was $0.6 million compared to a net income of $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2012.

In terms of liquidity, we ended the quarter with $3.6 million in cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash. This compares to $6.6 million as of December 31, 2012.

Our cash flow from operations in Q1 2013 was $0.2 million compared to a use of cash for operations of $8.2 million in Q1 2012.

We continue to actively manage cash and expenses, while ensuring the organization is properly positioned to deliver the strong growth of our commercial business as needed to allow us to successfully transition away from The EV Project at the end of 2013.

That concludes our first quarter financial results summary. I’d like to now turn the call back to Ravi for some detail on our strategy and operational objectives. Ravi?

H. Ravi Brar

Thank you, Susie. As The EV Project winds down, we have turned our attention to our next stage of growth and are taking important steps to meet our aggressive internal objectives to cultivate a long-term, healthy and profitable business. Specifically, we plan to further expand our national Blink network, leverage the expanse of existing Blink charger infrastructure to generate an annuity initially through usage fees, software license and in maintenance agreements, as well as extend our focus to our other 2 business segments where we see considerable opportunity to extract additional value.

We believe the current EV market foreshadows upside for ECOtality as we look to expand beyond — expand the Blink network. EV has continued to demonstrate market penetration led by the Nissan LEAF, for which a record 2,236 vehicles were sold in March and 1,937 in April, and by the custom Model S, of which 4,900 were sold in Q1. We’re also seeing strong sales by Ford and Chevy plug-in hybrids, as well as several new products from BMW, Volkswagen and Honda on the horizon.

By our calculations, even if just the current sales levels are sustained, we do not see — and we see no further growth beyond these current sales levels. We are seeing about 100,000 new EVs entering the U.S. market this year. While the numbers are still small, 100% year-over-year growth is a strong trend. More important, these 100,000 EVs are not spread evenly across the country. Rather, they’re concentrated in certain geographies. And that’s good for us, because it lets us focus our efforts to expand the Blink network in those geographies. What this all means for us is very simple: one, that a clear growing market opportunity exists; and two, that our network and growth strategy — with our network and growth strategy, we should be able to capture a reasonable share of this market over time.

During first quarter, we installed 1,795 Blink charging stations. As previously discussed, our run rate for usage revenue was approximately 500k per year. And it’s our goal to grow that to a run rate of $2.5 million per year going into 2014. So far, we’re only capturing usage revenue for our level 2 quick charging stations, as we have not yet begun to charge fees for DC Fast Charging. We expect to do that early this summer.

It’s important to note that the majority of our sales and revenue recognition from new sales outside of The EV Project will be largely weighted towards the second half of the year. Based on the market trends and EVs, as well as our planned network expansion, we also expect to see a continued uptick in usage trends.

We expect to complete the installations of our level 2 residential and public charging systems under The EV Project this summer. And we expect to complete DC Fast Charger installations by Q3. After that happens, the majority of our revenues will then be generated by new hardware sales, usage fees, the latter of which is a new revenue stream for us, as well as annual licensing and maintenance fees. In addition, we continue to conduct further testing on advertising and expect that it will represent an additional revenue stream in the future.

We currently have over 12,000 Blink chargers installed all across the United States and are continuing to gain traction in our major markets. I’ll just hone in, as an example, on the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have 198 Blink charging stations and more DC Fast Chargers in place than basically everyone else combined. Across those 198 Blink charging stations, there are hundreds of active Blink users and some of the highest levels of network utilization in the country. Looking at the statistics in this market, we believe there’s a clear path to profitability from our EV charging network, particularly as the number of EVs and members increase, thereby, increasing utilization as a natural byproduct. As we transition the nongovernment-generated revenue, we continue to grow our Blink network and have demonstrated some solid progress with our recent sales initiatives. In fact, the deals we’re doing today are indicative of the types of agreements that will propel us forward. The expansion of our agreement with Kroger is a good example of a major U.S. company investing their own capital into expanding the Blink network above and beyond The EV Project. In addition, our agreement with Texas Instruments to install 46 level 2 charging stations at 12 office locations in Texas, including 9 at its corporate headquarters, offers another good example that EV infrastructure is becoming more and more prominent as large companies lead the charge in investing in their own installations. In particular, the TI deal and many other similar deals with corporate clients underscore the importance of EV charging at the workplace.

Now if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’d like to spend a little bit of time getting into the details of our distribution strategy, because I think it’s important for this call as the company continues to transition. Our primary direct selling efforts have multiple channels. The EV Project left a large suspect and prospect list with regional, super regional and national account type organizations that for whatever reason, did not agree to the terms of The EV project offer. These organizations, however, did show interest at one point or engaged in some level of sales process with us and are now — we’re now going back to them with a Blink sales offer. Secondly, we’re going back to our current customers who have a strategic interest in expanding EV charging infrastructure and to use the EV Project to really get started for a proof of concept. We’re working with these accounts to help them craft their go-forward strategy and, of course, sell them follow-on orders. Lastly, we’re taking the usage data from the installed base and going back to businesses with whole Star network chargers to show them that more units are necessary and beneficial to them and their business. The value of this pipeline grew roughly 36% in the first quarter and, of course, it’s something that we closely monitor on a weekly basis. Further, we’re actively establishing sales distribution channels to broaden our reach and penetration both to establish Blink markets, as well as key growth geographies.

We believe that vertically-oriented independent sales representatives and service-oriented dealer resellers are a fantastic opportunity for us to grow rapidly, but also strategically. And it’s really, frankly, the only way to do it as companies our size simply cannot afford a large national direct sales force.

The first quarter, we spent understanding and identifying who some of our best candidates in both categories could be. As we continue in the second quarter, our goal is to begin signing those channels and getting them under productive agreements. To give you an idea of the scope and magnitude of the effort, to date, we have met multiple times with 94 organizations who have the potential to effectively sell the unique Blink value proposition. These organizations vary in name and brand size as well as vertical focus. To give you an example, they are electrical contractors, electrical services companies, solar installers, homebuilders, LED lighting companies, HVAC contractors and many others. Some are regional and some are national in footprint. We currently have 9 organizations in late-stage negotiations with us. Our goal is not a long list, but rather the right list of partners, distributors, resellers and so forth to carry the Blink brand nationally.

Finally, in the third quarter of this year, we’ll be rolling out our new residential product. The next generation of Blink for the EV home — the EV owner’s home will see a dramatic reduction in price point, making the second generation of our product more accessible to consumers.

The benefit of having our product in the consumer’s garage at an aggressive price point, bundled with a membership to access the rest of our Blink network is that it will support our growth and drive annuity as more and more consumers use EVs.

In addition, we see a clear connection between charging at home, at work, at retail and on the road during a trip. We will have a full suite of hardware, software, network and membership solutions to give EV drivers unparalleled levels of EV range confidence.

Looking beyond Blink, let’s spend a moment talking about our other product and service offerings, which have become an increasing focus for us. We see opportunity for substantial growth in the industrial fast-charging market and in the launch of our Minit-Charger 12 represents our new focus in this market. We are on track to begin deliveries in the third quarter to satisfy our healthy pipeline of interest in this product. Minit-Charger customers include: Fruit of the Loom, Coca-Cola, Nestle, International, ConAgra Foods and Frito-Lay. We are seeing more and more facilities transition from battery rooms to fast charging and opportunity charging in the industrial workplace. We are also seeing economic improvements at the macro level, enabling companies to spend on CapEx to upgrade their equipment. In line with this trend, we believe we are in excellent position to grow our Minit-Charger product offering with new hardware and software launches planned for this year. We also think there’s opportunity to leverage our Blink network experience to provide network communications and battery management solutions for industrial applications in the future.

Turning to our eTec Labs service offering, advanced vehicle and infrastructure testing and R&D continue to be an area where we hold exceptional expertise. Outside of the expansive driver data we generated from The EV Project alone, we continue to consult and manage projects for the DOE. Our work includes a $26 million contract from the DOE, previously mentioned, not anymore [ph]j , of which we have a backlog value of over $20 million with approximately $7 million in deliverables this year.

Lastly, we continue to work closely with ChargePoint on the Collaboratev initiative to further define and build out a platform based on accepted nonproprietary industry standards, as well as reach out to others in the industry to participate in Collaboratev. From an industry perspective, we think Collaboratev is incredibly important for growing the ubiquitous and interoperable national EV network. As you can see, Collaboratev success is tied directly to the success of the industry as a whole, and I’m proud to be part of something that will not only generate a great return for our shareholders, but also enable the rapid adoption of EVs and EV infrastructure in the U.S.

As you can see, we’re making progress on shifting our business to one with a significant concentration of revenue in one project to a well-diversified business. We believe that each of our 3 complementary product and service offerings represent a growth opportunity, a significant growth opportunity. We have set aggressive internal sales targets and we intend to meet them. Our goal is to promote the use of clean, efficient, cost-effective transportation technology to best serve our customers while simultaneously cultivating shareholder value as we continue to build our business.

With that, I’d like to open up the call to our questions — to any questions. And Alicia, I will turn it back to you.

Question-and-Answer Session


[Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from the line of Philip Shen with Roth Capital.

Matt Koranda – Roth Capital Partners, LLC, Research Division

This is Matt on for Phil. I just wanted to — I just wanted to start out with some of the Blink hardware. How many commercial charger units did you guys sell during the quarter? And then how many do you expect in — for the balance of 2013?

H. Ravi Brar

We haven’t put a forecast out there for the rest of the year. But if we include Kroger in Q1, which is a combination of EV Project and the $1.5 million in contribution and investment by Kroger, as well as other activities, we’re in the neighborhood of $250 million. The reality is in Q1, as I mentioned during our Talk Fact, our focus and our effort has been in building out a sales channel while wrapping up The EV Project activities. So the primary plus was, one, knockdown big deals like Kroger, TI, et cetera, but — which are pseudo- EV Project, post-EV Project, combination-type deals, mine the pipeline that is there, and most importantly, build a significant national network of indirect channels for the company. So that the second half, as we mentioned and talked about, second half is really when we expect to see that good traction.

Matt Koranda – Roth Capital Partners, LLC, Research Division

Great. And then in terms of the rest of the year sort of in that line, do you guys have a target for follow-on commercial target orders that you want to share with us for the balance of 2013?

H. Ravi Brar

We don’t have a target. We don’t have guidance for that at this point, Matt. All the employers that are — our targets are pretty aggressive. We have a track record, at this point, of selling and installing 13,000 units. Of those, nearly 4,000 — sorry, 12,000. So of this 12,000, nearly 4,000 are commercial. By the time we’re done with The EV Project, that will be 5,000 commercial. What I would tell you is that what I believe is a healthy run rate for ’13 and ’14 is that we ought to be replicating at least EV Project levels, commercial charging of about 5,000 a year for the near term. It’s throttled by the number of vehicles that are out there. So the fact that there are 100,000, likely to be 100,000 vehicles out there, we just kind of stay on this trajectory that we’ve been on for March and April. I hope to see it grow by the way, but to be conservative, with a 100,000 vehicles out there this year and then continued growth next year, I’d like to see us doing a run rate of 5k a year of these level 2 quick chargers. A little harder to get your — our arms around the DC Fast Chargers because that space is changing so rapidly.

Matt Koranda – Roth Capital Partners, LLC, Research Division

Okay, great. That’s helpful. And then in terms of OpEx, as you kind of ramp up your efforts to drive commercial sales, I know you’ve highlighted sort of the distribution channels that you’re looking to sell through. Can we expect any change in OpEx during 2013 or 2014?

H. Ravi Brar

It’s going to be our absolute goal to control it and hold it in check. The thrust of the sales effort, we’ve got who we need on board at this point in all aspects, really, from finance to sales, to the exec team. And the sales cost will primarily be driven as indirect and variable cost by building out this channel of resellers and distributors, et cetera, for the company.

Matt Koranda – Roth Capital Partners, LLC, Research Division

Okay. And then one last one, if I may. Cash looks just a little bit tight here. How do you plan on working or managing working capital over the next quarter and then during the balance of 2013?

H. Ravi Brar

As you know, just from following the company for a while, we are very, very tight and just manage our cash very, very carefully. And I think that’s been apparent for the last several quarters, as Susie, Mary and I and the rest of the team have been very diligent in cutting and controlling costs while we kind of dip the business aimed in the direction that we want, and now we figure how to grow it since we now have it stabilized. So we’ll continue that balancing act in order to grow the business the way we want to grow the business and capture what we believe is being a very large opportunity in front of us. We’re thinking about additional capital. There’s plenty of opportunity there, and it’s really a matter of what’s the best way to capitalize the company going forward, and really what’s best for its existing shareholders.


Our next question comes from the line of Ross Silver with Vista Partners.

Ross Silver – Vista Partners LLC

One question I have for you as it relates to the Blink network is just talking about the competitive differentiation the Blink network has relative to some of the other companies that have chargers and may not necessarily have a software solution behind those chargers. If you could just talk a little bit about that?

H. Ravi Brar

Sure. There are a lot of folks out there that have chargers that aren’t networked to anything. That’s a quick and dirty kind of cheap way to get things done. It’s really not the right way, and it’s very shortsighted for anyone to install what we would call basically, it’s a little derisive, but we call it a dumb charger. And the reason for that is that the end-user, the utility, the host of that charger and so forth has really 0 statistics, 0 monitoring, 0 reservations capability. For example, high-frequent in airport that has dumb chargers, and it’s frustrating. The positive is I get there and all the spaces are taken, all 16 of the spaces are taken. That’s good news and that’s something very different from the way it was a year ago where you could pull in and you knew you were going to get an empty space because there weren’t that many EVs. Now it’s rolling the dice and I’m actually in the unfortunate position of having a to make a bad decision to drive my wife’s car to the airport instead of drive my Nissan LEAF because I can’t tell if there’s a charger available or not until I get there. So the advantage of the Blink network and other — we’re not the only one, there are others that are networks, is that you have that interactive communication with the end-user, whether it’s on the NAV unit on their car, which we offer and others offer, whether it is on their iPhone or their Android, there’s some interaction that goes back and forth that tells you if it’s available, when your car is going to be fully charged, did it get unplugged, is it fully charged, at what rate is it charging, what are you going to pay when you get there, because there’s a variability in that. So it’s really a strategic advantage, and we and others who have network chargers are really doing this thing the right way.


[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from the line of Jeremy Hellman with Avenue T Fund.

Jeremy Hellman

Just following up on that last thread, just kind of thinking kind of long term, big picture conceptually here. Do you foresee or does the industry foresee a need to have a more advanced reservation system around EV parking? And obviously, if you’ve got the in-car or on smartphone availability being addressed, that’s one thing, but I’m thinking about more kind of “analog interference,” where you’ve got someone that just says “To hell with it, I’m parking in the EV spot even though I don’t have an EV and having them take up that spot.” Is that something that is kind of on your radar because I could see if — a hindrance to their adoption curve could be not being able to get access to chargers?

H. Ravi Brar

Yes. That actually is something that we’ve been very focused on for a couple years. As part of — one of our offerings at eTec Labs is something called a microclimate study. We’ve been doing them for years. One was commissioned for each of The EV Project territories, as an example. We have DoD clients that buy them, foreign governments have bought them. And we basically — it’s a consulting work on the best way to deploy EV charging infrastructure within a particular geography. Part of that work, Jeremy, is a study of the local ordinances and work that is done to make sure that signage is created and/or meets requirements to create the requirements if they don’t exist and to push those local governments. Because unfortunately, in local, to push those local governments in the right direction, which is to treat parking enforcement as an important part of the equation because in areas where there isn’t parking enforcement, there’s nothing more frustrating and useless than to pull up to a spot, you need the spot and there’s an SUV parked in the spot. So it’s a real concern, but it’s actually something that we and others in the industry have been working on for years and have a pretty solid process in place for addressing.

Jeremy Hellman

Right. And switching gears, and congrats on getting that home charger that you had mentioned to me towards the end of last year, at a point where you were thinking of heading to the launch. As you kind of go down that path and I’m thinking about it, particularly with respect to the kind of the solar, the PV rooftop solar companies that are certainly white hot out there in terms of their stocks lately, do you see ECOtality’s path as being best served aligning with a single kind of vendor financier and getting good terms from them or trying to be kind of the arms dealer to them all? Is the industry going to shake out where each manufacturer effectively ends up aligning with one of the solar companies or do you see it shaking out differently?

H. Ravi Brar

I think it’s wide open. We don’t have a desire right now to hone in on just one. And it’s a big country and there’s a lot of solar providers out there. We think we can offer a compelling solution, which is not just, “Here’s a plastic box to go in your garage and charge your EV.” It goes way beyond that in that you’re getting access to an entire network as a result. And when we launched this product — I don’t want to take the wind out of the sails of everybody who’s working on this thing real hard right now — but you’re going to see a compelling bundled offering that I don’t think anybody else can offer to the 5,000 or so people a month who are buying EVs right now that they’ll look at and they’ll just see a lot of value in it, not just purely from an economic standpoint, but also from the standpoint that no one else can bundle in and offer you access to a complete hardware, software and network solution for charging your EV outside your home and attach that to the box that goes in your home and really give you access both — and give you access to both.

Jeremy Hellman

Okay. Kind of a data point that comes to mind, kind of behind that or underneath it, do you have data on what percentage of EV owners have rooftop solar on their home or conversely, do you have any data on what percentage of rooftop solar owners have an EV? I guess it’s the same.

H. Ravi Brar

Yes, there’s a Navigant study out there, and I’m going by recollection, so I can look at it, but I think the Navigant study said that it’s 43% of people with solar also have an EV or vice versa. And I apologize, I don’t have it memorized, but it’s — there’s a very high correlation between owning an EV and having solar at home.

Jeremy Hellman

Yes, and one would think, and so it then would follow on, it would seem to make sense to get wrapped into the offering that SolarCity or SunPower or Sunrun, et al, would be offering to their customers.

H. Ravi Brar

Sure. And as we mentioned, that is one of the — of those 94 organizations that we met within Q1 in order to build this indirect channel strategy, many of those are the usual suspects from solar world that you would think of.

Jeremy Hellman

Okay. And one last one for me, just I know if it’s something you can address, but there’s a decent block trade after the market closed yesterday. I think it was 1.8 million shares. Do you have any intelligence on who that was? Was that — was ABB involved in that?

H. Ravi Brar

No, I don’t have intelligence, but I know that it wasn’t ABB. I mean, ABB is not actively out there. They have 2 people on our board and are very actively engaged in guiding, directing, strategy, partnership on product, financing and so forth and is not a buyer or seller of the company stock.


I’m showing no further questions in the queue at this time. I’d like to turn the conference back to management for any final remarks.

H. Ravi Brar

Thanks, Alicia. Once again, thank you, everyone, for joining us today. We appreciate the continued support from our valued customers, shareholders and partners. We’ve got an exciting year ahead of us and we invite you to watch our progress as we continue our transition and execute on our strategy in monetizing our EV solutions. Thanks again, and we’ll talk to you soon. Bye-bye now.


I would like to, again, remind everyone that today’s call will be available for replay through May 22, starting later this evening via the link provided in today’s press release, as well as available in the Investors section of the company’s website. This concludes ECOtality’s conference call. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.



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