After buying stock in Rivian — the electric vehicle maker that promised a hotly anticipated SUV or truck version of a Tesla — at $72 a share, San Francisco tech program manager Carter Gibson wasn’t thrilled when the price dropped to an all-time low of $19.25 this past week.
“That doesn’t feel awesome,” Gibson admitted. But as one of the rare owners of Rivian’s maiden product, the R1T Launch Edition with a starting price of $79,500, his enthusiasm for the five-seat pickup truck he’s been driving for nearly a month — his first EV — has soothed his anxiety about his stock portfolio.
“The truck itself is better than it has any right to be. The build quality is head and shoulders above similarly priced (or more expensive) EVs,” he said.
After the company’s sparkling debut, the stock market has taken a dim view of Rivian’s prospects — and supply chain disruptions have slashed its production estimates. In addition, in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company said it’s recalling 502 of its RT1 trucks, or about 10 percent of its total production to date, for a defect in the deployment of its air bag that could injure a child in a car crash.
But in an earnings call on Wednesday, Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe said the start-up EV truck maker is confident it can overcome production hurdles and put the worst of its problems in the rear view mirror. Rivian reported 90,000 preorders for its R1-series truck and SUVs as of May 9, signaling continued strong demand.
“Let’s call it like it is, Rivian has been a train wreck since its IPO and an overall black eye for the EV industry,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research note Wednesday night. “The company has potential to change the EV and auto industry with much hype coming out of the gates, and instead has been a massive disappointment.”
Frustrations aside, Ives is still bullish on the company, noting a lot of interest as expressed in the preorders.
“This quarter was not without issues, but it does finally appear that Rivian is on the right track,” he wrote.
The roller coaster ride for the Irvine-based start-up culminated in this past week’s staggering share price drop after Ford sold about 8 percent of its holdings, or 8 million shares, when the post-IPO lockup period expired.
Ford still holds about 94 million shares. Amy Mast, director of corporate communications for Rivian, said: “It’s not unusual to see investors take an opportunity like this after a successful IPO. We’re grateful to them for supporting our journey to bring the first EV truck to market.”
However, Ford’s dumping of some of its Rivian shares comes right as the first batch of customers receive its own iteration of the electric pickup truck, the Ford F-150 Lightning. Developed in-house, the truck hits the market at about half the price of its start-up competitor.
On Wednesday, Rivian reported lower-than-expected revenue of $95 million for the first quarter, against a loss of $1.6 billion.
In March, the company bungled the announcement of significant price increases for its R1T trucks and R1S SUVs — $12,000 and $14,500 respectively — only to reverse course after severe backlash from customers who had already put down $1,000 deposits. Rivian quickly said it would honor the original price for those customers.
The same month, the company announced it would produce only half of the 50,000 vehicles it had planned this year because of logistical and supply chain concerns.
Yet even after the price increases and production delays, the company received over 10,000 R1T preorders in the United States and Canada, despite a relatively hefty average price of over $93,000, Scaringe said in the earnings call.
“We’ve done all this in one of the most challenging operating environments in decades. We have $17 billion of cash and believe we have a clear path to launch R2 in Georgia in 2025 with our current cash on hand,” Scaringe said, referring to the company’s midsize SUV.
The company also hoped to ramp up in its Normal, Ill., plant to its full capacity of 150,000 vehicles a year, Scaringe said. From January to March, the company produced 2,553 vehicles and delivered 1,227 to customers like Gibson.
“We’ve seen really the worst of it, or sort of the valley if you will, of the supply constraints,” Scaringe said.
Like other carmakers during the pandemic, Rivian has been hit with massive supply chain issues, increased material costs affecting battery production and logistical hurdles.
But Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds, noted that the shortages of semiconductors and microchips over the past year were particularly humbling for start-up carmakers.
Although automakers and manufacturers in general have scrambled to deal with pandemic disruptions, it’s been that much harder for smaller companies like Rivian that are still trying to ramp up production.
In addition to starting the process from scratch, a start-up wouldn’t necessarily have the clout or relationships with producers or the promise of large volumes of the more established players.
“Production in general is largely underestimated — it almost bankrupted Tesla when they started to ramp up and try to go mass market,” Caldwell said.
“For somebody like a Ford or Toyota, it could seem fairly easy and straightforward, but only because they’ve been doing it for decades,” she said.
Meanwhile, another flashy EV maker bursting onto the scene, Lucid Group Inc., has suffered similar setbacks resulting in cutting production forecasts and also having to raise prices for its luxury sedans, which were originally poised to compete directly with Tesla.
“A lot of start-up companies are going to realize that it’s pretty cool to create that concept and a niche vehicle that has low volumes, and is very expensive,” Caldwell said. “But frankly, for a company to survive in the long term, they have to appeal to the mass market. That means producing thousands upon thousands of vehicles,” she said.
Rivian debuted with strong financial backers like Ford, Amazon, T. Rowe Price and BlackRock.
Ford initially invested $500 million in Rivian. Amazon owns about a 20 percent stake in the company and placed an initial order of 100,000 of Rivian’s custom-made commercial delivery vans. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But while start-ups like Rivian and Lucid struggled to bring their stylish promises to reality, traditional carmakers developed their own electric trucks and SUVs. These are now coming onto the market in bigger numbers and at mostly lower price points, Caldwell said.
“Ford has a lot riding on the truck market. They’ve been king of it for years. So they don’t want the new up and comer to come and take their crown away,” she said.
Its first electric pickup, the Ford F-150 Lightning, is on its way to dealerships at about half the price of the Rivian RT1. But that’s not the only competition. General Motors Silverado EV is expected to come out in early 2023, GMC’s Hummer EV is currently available, and General Motors is planning to release both the Chevrolet Equinox EV and Blazer EV next year.
“A lot of people in the United States can’t afford that price point of over $70,000. But a Ford 150 Lightning for $40,000 is maybe something that they can afford,” she added.
Gibson, a senior manager at Google, remains all in on Rivian. He said he has zero regrets about the $85,392.99 he spent (minus his $1,000 deposit and before factoring in the $7,500 federal tax rebate).
The large size comes in handy as he moves into a new home and for storing his snowboard and camping gear, as well as traveling with a husband, a Great Dane and a Weimaraner. He’s also the moderator of the Rivian subreddit.
As for the company’s future and his own stock holdings, he’s taking a long view: “It might be a bumpy ride, but the product itself is incredible.”