(Bloomberg) — Somphote Ahunai, whose net worth was more than $4.8 billion two years ago, is no longer a billionaire after a series of troubled attempts to transform one of Thailand’s largest renewable energy producers into a Tesla-like transportation specialist.

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Shares of Energy Absolute Pcl posted a record monthly decline of 51% in June, pushing Somphote’s fortune below $600 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Even after rebounding 11% this month following Somphote’s furious defense of the company’s financial health, the stock has still lost about 70% of its value this year, the biggest drop of nearly 1,400 companies in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.

The fall follows several years of Somphote trying to replicate parts of Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc.: an integrated company with electricity generation, battery manufacturing, car manufacturing and charging station installation. Somphote also invested in the assembly of electric trains, ferries and buses — and borrowed heavily to fund his dreams.

“All efforts and bets on the EV industry are seriously questioned due to the ongoing price wars and oversupply,” said Tiwa Shintadapong, president of Investors Association of Thailand. “Energy Absolute’s profit decline and negative cash flow have really reduced investor confidence.”

Somphote, 57, called emergency news conferences on consecutive days last week to clarify the company’s position and calm shareholders and creditors. He defended Energy Absolute’s aggressive push into battery manufacturing and transportation, while saying the company has enough cash flow to service its 37 billion baht ($1 billion) debt.

Founded as a specialist in palm oil and biodiesel, Energy Absolute has invested billions to build battery, bus, ferry and train production facilities under the Mine brand as the Thai government joins the global drive to cut emissions.

“EVs and the battery business are more difficult than we expected, but we still have strong faith in their future,” he said at one of the press conferences, where he urged investors who “question the company’s survival” to look at its fundamentals and market potential. Somphote’s stake in the company fell from about 40% to just over 30% after the stock’s decline forced a foreign bank to sell some of its pledged shares to repay loans, he said.

First-quarter profit fell 62% from a year earlier, partly due to an end to government subsidies for electricity production at one of its solar power plants. Electric vehicle sales also fell in the three months through March due to lower demand for electric buses.

According to Somphote, cash flow will increase this year as most of the major investments in electric buses and trucks have been completed.

Energy Absolute posted a free cash flow deficit of 7.3 billion baht in 2023, up from 1.7 billion baht a year earlier, while net profit was little changed at 7.6 billion baht, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Still, its power division – which has 664 megawatts of generating capacity – remains strong, with annual cash flow of at least 4 billion baht through 2026, Kasikorn Securities Co. analyst Suksit Wongwanich wrote in a note published on July 4. However, its EV business still faces challenges amid rising competition, he said.

–With assistance from Abhishek Vishnoi and Lee Miller.

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