STLA vs. California - Assessing the Investment Landscape Amid Emissions Policy Disputes

Stellantis N.V. (STLA), one of the globe's leading automakers, was formed in 2021 from the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the PSA Group. The company's portfolio includes illustrious brands like Ram, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Jeep, and it has a strong presence in North America and Europe.

STLA has disclosed plans for significant workforce downsizing at its Jeep manufacturing plants in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio. The company has attributed its dire decision to the stringent emissions regulations enforced by California.

STLA’s Detroit plant, known for manufacturing the Jeep Grand Cherokee, may witness a potential impact on around 2,455 employees and roughly 1,225 workers at the Toledo facility – which is responsible for producing the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator models – are also expected to bear the brunt of the downsizing decision.

To respond to the sluggish sales performance of its Jeep brand, STLA has made strategic moves to adjust production levels accordingly. These include transitioning from an alternative work regimen to a customary two-shift operation at its Toledo location and eliminating one out of three shifts at the Detroit facility, which currently employs 4,600 individuals. The intended job reductions are projected to take effect as soon as February 5.

Let’s understand the issue in detail...

Since this summer, STLA has substantially curtailed its shipments of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and EVs to dealers in the 14 states that adhere to the stringent rules set forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Consequently, consumers shopping in these jurisdictions are typically presented with a stock of plug-in hybrid SUVs. However, an order must be placed for those interested in buying an all-electric version or an ICE model.

Quite contrarily, dealers trading in states operating beyond CARB standards face a disproportionately different situation with scarce or no hybrids in stock, essentially providing an ICE-only product lineup. The underpinning rationale for STLA's strategic supply management is to meet CARB's emission standards in those 14 states, enabling manufacturers to sell a fixed percentage of zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

But here’s the challenge for the Jeep producer. In 2020, STLA rivals Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW entered an exclusive agreement with California, delineating unique compliance criteria considering nationwide sales rather than solely focusing on CARB's jurisdictions. STLA argues that such a modification disrupts industry balance by unfairly tilting it in favor of the brands due to the more achievable nature of these revised targets.

After the initial agreement, Volvo and Geely acceded to the pact with California, leaving STLA in an unfavorable position as their request to participate was rejected. Seeking an explanation, STLA alleges that the rebuff resulted from Chrysler's public protestation against California's assertive act of promulgating autonomous rules in 2019. This drew attention, provoking similar challenges led by other automobile manufacturers such as General Motors (GM) and Toyota.

GM was prominently outspoken among those opposing California's regulatory authority, culminating in a stern confrontation. As a reaction, California declared it would cease purchasing vehicles from GM for its fleet requirements. The discord was resolved in January 2022 when GM consented to adhere to California's stringent emission standards.

Recent developments include STLA formally challenging the stand by submitting a petition to California's Office of Administrative Law, indicating accusations against the state for clandestine regulatory maneuvering involving selective automakers in direct violation of the California Administrative Procedure Act and claiming it amounts to a “double standard.”

The requested reevaluation of the framework agreement represents a bid to prompt the state’s Office of Administrative Law to invalidate the contract. While this outcome is improbable, it serves to reestablish an equal playing field with those car manufacturers who previously expressed a more favorable stance toward reinforcing emissions regulations.

Probable Impacts on STLA

STLA has actively opposed President Biden's endeavors to curtail carbon emissions and promote EVs. They allege that the stringent regulations risk imposing multi-billion-dollar penalties on their operations.

The automobile manufacturer has voiced support for lowering emissions, citing it as a challenge to California to address its "competitive disadvantages" and ensure fair product distribution across all states.

Earlier this year, STLA revealed plans to cease the supply of non-hybrid vehicles in states adhering to California's stringent emissions regulations in compliance with these rigorous environmental standards.

The discontinuation of gas-only vehicle shipments to 14 states, in the absence of specific customer orders, may lead to substantial repercussions for STLA. The automaker's sales and market share could decline significantly, while costs might escalate, eroding profit margins.

Moreover, the recently filed petition by STLA, charging CARB with executing an “underground regulatory scheme” against the company, casts a shadow of potential legal disputes. Fines, penalties or sanctions from CARB or other administrative bodies could emanate from the proceedings.

Furthermore, it is expected that STLA will revise its vehicle distribution strategy, adjusting it based on CARB emission compliance per state. This shift may result in restricted gas-only model availability for dealers in non-CARB states. Consequently, such constraints could initiate ripple effects on customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention, potentially impacting dealer profitability and operational efficiency.

Diminishing SUV production, a recent move by STLA, might endanger the company's ability to meet customer demands. Ultimately, this could lead to a substantial impact on the company's revenue figures.

Other factors that should be considered…

Despite STLA's gradual progression toward EVs, the company's investment in this sector is substantial. The Jeep Wrangler 4xe and Chrysler Pacifica hybrids remain among California's top-selling EVs. However, business performance is volatile.

STLA announced a recall of over 32,000 vehicles last month due to potential fire hazards. Declining sales of Jeep ICE variants and soaring interest rates have compelled the company to adopt aggressive cost-reduction measures. This change may result in major disruptions for numerous employees' livelihoods.

It is not the first time the company attributed layoffs to the EV transition. About 1,350 employees at STLA's Illinois plant were laid off, citing the same rationale. This development comes at a compelling time as Detroit's "Big Three" – General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and STLA – are simultaneously exploring cost-cutting strategies.

This follows the recent agreement to significant wage enhancement in response to United Auto Workers' strikes this year. Consequently, many positions within the automotive industry face uncertainty, leading to widespread usage of the term "restructuring" in the current discourse.

STLA is indeed the proprietor of several well-known brands. However, the perceived quality of these brands falls short when matched against some competitors. Management will need to remain steadfast in addressing and circumventing this issue.

The auto giant has set its sights on putting 47 EVs on the road by the end of next year. Of course, such a target is easier said than done. To successfully execute this plan, STLA must continue to innovate with new model introductions and astutely invest without placing undue risk on profit margins or destabilizing the company's financial footing. The successful implementation of this intricate transition represents the primary risk and question concerning STLA stock.

The difficulty of this task becomes more pronounced when compared to peers such as Tesla, which has already established streamlined profitability through its vehicle production.

Determining wise investment strategies that properly steer STLA forward while confronting a market saturated with inexpensive Chinese vehicles is challenging. Moreover, predicting the outcome of this endeavor remains incredibly tough.


At the current share price, STLA’s shares look tantalizingly cheap. Its forward P/E and Price/FCF multiples are 3.44 and 2.51, respectively, lower than the industry averages. Also, the company pays an attractive dividend yield of 6.53%.

Bottom Line

STLA is at a crucial juncture. The auto industry is immersed in an epochal shift toward electrification. Despite STLA's robust cash flows, it lags behind premier EV manufacturers in key areas of technology, sales, and future competitiveness. As a newcomer within the EV space, STLA recognizes the need to accelerate its progress, with monumental investments lined up over the forthcoming decade.

Investing in STLA is not without risks. The viability of the investment hinges on the company's ability to generate a meaningful amount of cash flow this decade. If it fails to do so, this could significantly hinder the funding earmarked for its transition to EVs.

The increasing global demand for EVs could place STLA in a precarious position and negatively affect its cash flow from operations. With an influx of automakers vying for market share, the fierce competition in the EV market could pose significant challenges to STLA. However, the potential rewards could be substantial if the company implements its strategies effectively.

STLA must successfully navigate numerous hurdles, including imminent economic turbulence, pricing pressure, rapidly evolving consumer preferences, attacks from emerging competitors, and, importantly, the strategic handling of disputes related to emission policies.

It is somewhat eyebrow-raising that layoffs transpire so swiftly following the confirmation of the latest "record" UAW agreement, a pact envisioned to establish the most robust job security in the face of transitioning to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and hybrids. Contrary to expectations, job numbers appear to be contracting rather than expanding, marking yet another occasion where grim reality dawns after the initial euphoria dissipates.

Considering the waning demand for their " premium SUVs, " one might question if STLA ever alluded to the fact that they'd be reducing shifts and trimming employee numbers at their twin Jeep plants, considering the waning demand for their "premium SUVs." This comes despite the Fifth-Generation Grand Cherokee only halfway through its minimum six-year cycle.

Moreover, it is curious that they place the onus on California's stringent CARB regulations – rules that have existed long before. It would be expected that STLA has crafted or is at least devising strategies to roll out more BEVs and hybrids to enhance compliance with CARB regulations.

Interestingly, recent layoff news and issues with the CARB have kept investor confidence strong. Indeed, STLA stock experienced a decrease of less than half a percent on Thursday last week, a minor setback that has since been regained. However, given the current circumstances, potential investors might consider waiting for a better entry point in the stock.