Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine. Read MoreRead More
If You’re Seeing More Rivians, Here’s Why
Thanks to Tesla, Rivian is exploiting a gap in the market — and shipping a lot more vehicles.
Have you been seeing Rivians on the street more often? Well, I have. Even on Brooklyn’s narrow and parking-deprived streets, these luxury trucks and SUVs — the look of which seems to split the difference between “rolling over a field of human skulls under the direction of Skynet” and “Pixar” — are making more of an appearance. I don’t think I’m imagining things either: The ballyhooed electric vehicle manufacturer has in fact seen a surge of shipments this year.
In the second quarter, Rivian produced 13,992 vehicles and delivered 12,460 of them, bringing its total for the first six months of the year up to 23,387 vehicles made and 20,586 delivered. That’s compared to 24,337 produced and 20,332 delivered in all of 2022.
The company said Tuesday that it expects to produce 52,000 total units this year, up slightly from its previous 50,000 estimate. It’s still burning money, though. Using its preferred earnings measure, it expects to lose $4.2 billion this year while pouring $1.7 billion into capital expenditures. Its net loss in the second quarter was $1.2 billion.
“As more and more vehicles are on the roads — and we now have tens of thousands of R1s on the roads — it continues to feed the flywheel of awareness about the brand,” Rivian chief executive R.J Scaringe said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday. “Some of our strongest advocates are people that are driving our vehicles every day. And so we’re quite bullish on the continued strong demand we have for our products.”
In the United States, Tesla still dominates the EV market, and Rivians have only recently even shown up in the data or on the streets in a meaningful way. Rivian’s consumer products (they also sell vans to Amazon) are unabashedly luxury trucks and full-size SUVs, cutting the company off from the crossover and mid-size EV market that Tesla has dominated. But while the size of the potential market is smaller than the niche filled by the Tesla Model Y, it’s one that Tesla has left open, with its delay in refreshing its model lineup and unclear timeline for sales of its Cybertruck.
According to data collected by Morgan Stanley, there were 2,200 R1Ts, (Rivian’s pickup truck) and 2,100 hundred R1Ss (its SUV) sold in June of this year, compared to 1,867 and 200 respectively last year. By contrast, there were over 33,000 Tesla Model Ys sold in June 2023 and 24,640 sold in June 2022.
Ford has sold almost 32,000 electric vehicles so far this year, including 10,309 F-150 Lightnings, the electrified version of its best selling pick-up truck.
That Tesla dominates the American EV market is hardly surprising — the unmatched brand awareness has become supercharged by aggressive pricing (aided by Inflation Reduction Act subsidies), turning its Model Y SUV and Model III sedan into something like “normal” cars.
Tesla’s ubiquity may have begun to trade off with its luxury or exclusive status, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas has argued: “A car is an expression of personal style and values. Many luxury car buyers want an attractive alternative to the ubiquitous Tesla,” he wrote in a July note to clients.
And that luxury is something customers are paying for. The R1S SUV starts at $78,000, while the R1T starts at $73,000. The F-150 Lighting, on the other hand, is listed closer to $50,000 (although in reality it typically ends up being much more expensive), while the luxury Tesla Model X starts at around $100,000. Lucid, another small electric automaker, is also competing in the unabashedly luxury space, with its sedan the Air starting at around $80,000 and an upcoming SUV the Gravity that is supposed to go on sale sometime next year. Other luxury brands like Cadillac, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW also have electric SUVs and crossovers on the market.
The Tesla model lineup, on the other hand, has not been refreshed meaningfully in years and its Cybertruck, which would compete directly with the R1T, remains unreleased to the general public with an unclear timeline for when it will be. The R1S, on the other hand, literally outsizes the crossovers and mid-size SUVs in the Tesla lineup, the Model Y and Model X.
“You can definitely tell Rivian hired a lot of former Tesla employees. The software and vehicle controls feel very Tesla-like. Rivian fit and finish feel superior to Tesla in just about every way,” Chris Hilbert, a Rivian R1S (and Model S) owner in Fishers, Indiana, told me. “The driving experience is really great — the vehicle has so much room and utility. We recently piled five kids and two adults into it for a road trip to Michigan. The luggage and kids stuff I got into it was nothing short of impressive.”
Hilbert noted, however, that Tesla’s software and driver-assist capabilities are more advanced and its service is available in more places across the country: “That’s a big issue for Rivian right now — service locations and availability. Many potential buyers have balked due to the lack of service centers.”
In short, Rivian has proven in the last year that they can be a company that makes cars that customers want and can get delivered to customers. What remains to be seen if it really wants to compete with Tesla is whether it can be the combined automobile, software, and services company that contemporary EV buyers expect, let alone a profitable one that investors want too.
In the meantime, Hilbert has also put in an order for a Cybertruck.