When Rivian launched its much-delayed R1T electric pickup last fall, the reviews were breathless.
“The coolest pickup ever made,” said auto enthusiast and popular YouTube presenter Doug DeMuro. “The most remarkable pickup truck we’ve ever driven,” declared MotorTrend before naming it Truck of the Year.
More recently, the Amazon-backed startup has been on something of a roller-coaster ride, with last year’s euphoria fading into fresh concerns over production targets and the departure of a top executive.
The company saw its market value soar after its November initial public offering, besting General Motors and Ford Motor Co., a key Rivian investor. In mid-December, Rivian announced a second factory, near Atlanta, that will increase the company’s production capacity by 400,000 vehicles per year.
“The plant, which will eventually employ more than 7,500 workers, represents a key next step as Rivian scales aggressively toward higher-capacity production for our future generation of products,” the company said.
But the tide quickly turned on fresh struggles that underscore the long road ahead for the novice builder of consumer EVs and commercial delivery vans.
In late December, Rivian said it will delay deliveries of the R1T and the R1S SUV with extended-range batteries until 2023. The delay allows the company to prioritize the more popular standard-range vehicles, CEO RJ Scaringe said in a letter to customers posted on Reddit.
“The next several months will remain a steep climb as we continue to ramp up our operations,” Scaringe said.
Early in the new year, Stellantis announced that Amazon will be its first customer for the new Ram ProMaster battery-electric van, beginning in 2023. That poses competition to Rivian, which counts Amazon as its biggest customer with an initial order of 100,000 delivery vans by 2025.
Last week, Rivian disclosed 2021 production of 1,015 vehicles — short of its 1,200 goal. It also confirmed the departure of COO Rod Copes. Rivian told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, that Copes’ departure had been planned.
In the aftermath of the recent setbacks, Rivian’s stock price was hovering near its IPO price of $78 last week after soaring as high as $172 in mid-November.
While the recent events have been a comedown from the post-IPO excitement, it certainly wasn’t unexpected, given the volatility of EV startups. Tesla was near bankruptcy a few years ago but then became the first automaker with $1 trillion market value in October.
“I think Rivian will still be OK in the long run, but these are great examples of how quickly a new automaker’s fortunes can swing, or at least appear to swing,” said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com.
Rivian said in a letter to shareholders Dec. 16 that it had 71,000 customer orders for the R1T and R1S, in addition to the Amazon order for its EDV vans. Rivian said its planned capacity of 200,000 vehicles a year at its current factory in Normal, Ill., will be bolstered by the Georgia plant in the near future.
“After a 12-year journey of getting our strategy and offerings ready for customer deliveries, it has been incredibly rewarding to see the excitement and enthusiasm for what we are building,” said the shareholder letter, which accompanied the third-quarter earnings report.
Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst at IHS Markit, said Rivian faces a long road ahead but appears to be ready.
The Amazon order with Stellantis doesn’t necessarily threaten the EV startup since Amazon will need multiple partners to achieve its zero-emissions goals, Brinley said. And strong consumer interest in the Rivian brand seems unaffected by recent company news.
“As Rivian scales and ramps up production, it may continue to see some bumps in the road, but the company does seem prepared to weather those bumps,” she said. “Cracking the car industry to become a volume producer will take time.”