AeroVironment (AV) gives soldiers a birds-eye view of their mission. The company designs and manufactures a line of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the Department of Defense (DoD). Small enough for one-man transport and launch and operable through a hand-held control, AV's UAS provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for small tactical units. Through its Efficient Energy Systems (EES) unit, AV produces PosiCharge fast-charge systems for industrial equipment batteries and electric vehicles (EV), as well as EV testing systems used by auto, defense, and utility markets.
AV's largest business segment, UAS (83% of sales), makes small UAS -- the Raven, Wasp AE, and Puma -- that wirelessly communicate real-time video using electro-optical or infrared sensors; they provide reconnaissance, tracking, combat assessment, and geographic data to warfighter ground units. Though Northrop Grumman and General Atomics compete indirectly with their larger UAS, AV's smaller systems offer a competitive edge because they are harder to see from the ground and can be moved, assembled without tools, and launched in less than five minutes by one person.
On the wings of change, AV has tapped another emerging market through its EES business segment. The company offers industrial electric vehicle charging systems, power cycling and test systems, and contract engineering services. This segment is netting customers as it continues to spotlight the advantages of its PosiCharge products; they improve productivity and safety by eliminating frequent and laborious battery changes.
Sales and Marketing
The US Army and other US government agencies generate about 75% of its total sales.
AV experienced steep drops in both revenue and net income from 2012 to 2013. It got back on track in 2014, however, when revenues increased 5% from $240 million to $252 million. Profits jumped 32% from $10 million in 2013 to $14 million in 2014 due to a decline in research and development costs.
The growth for 2013 was driven by a 7% rise in UAS sales driven by higher product deliveries of Puma AE systems. This bump in sales was offset by a 7% decrease in EES sales due to decreased product deliveries of electric vehicle test systems. AV's operating cash flow decreased largely in 2012, but it steadily increased in 2013 and 2014.
Given the US DoD's shift in defense spending priorities -- moving away from combat warfare equipment toward unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), advanced sensors, and other high-tech systems -- AV's systems are answering the call for products that will allow the US military more speed, flexibility, precision, and responsiveness. Even with this edge, the company wants to reduce its exposure to US government budgetary constraints, and it is angling to add militaries from allied nations and non-military industries in the US to its roster of customers. To that end, the company is introducing applications to support law enforcement, infrastructure monitoring, and border surveillance. Helpful for that effort is the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which encourages the adoption of small UAS for public and commercial use.
The company uses the contract engineering services of its EES segment not only to serve customers, but in a sense to also serve itself. Contract engineering services helps the company to stay innovative and improve technical capabilities. The segment also partners with auto manufacturers, utilities, and others to develop demand for systems that charge electric and hybrid electric vehicles. It also licenses electrical contractors for direct sales to consumers.