Rivian's path to survival is now remarkably clear



2022 Rivian R1T gray front three quarter2

Rivian has had a lot on its plate as it transitioned from pitch mode to selling EVs. It created an electric pickup and an electric SUV while prepping a monster IPO. It made electric delivery vans for Amazon and wants to do the same for other companies. It now plans to sell an even cheaper SUV that could make Rivian a dominant EV player for years to come. And it wanted to build an entirely new factory in Georgia where it would manufacture many of these vehicles.

With so many variables, the exact shape of the company’s future was hard to predict.

That has changed.

Earlier on Thursday, the company announced a fully revamped version of its first two consumer vehicles, the R1T pickup and the R1S SUV. Not only are they more technologically advanced, Rivian also made them more simple in a bid to dramatically slash the cost of building them.

Rivian also recently set aside its plan to build that factory in Georgia for now, opting instead to double-down on its existing facility in Illinois. The decision is going to save the company $2.25 billion and means it can focus all its efforts on one manufacturing staff in one factory.

These changes mean that, for the first time since the company broke stealth in 2018, Rivian’s immediate future is actually remarkably clear. The company needs to sell these revamped vehicles at a profit in order to sustain itself long enough to get to the cheaper mass market R2 SUV on the road (and the adorable R3 variant that took the automotive world by storm earlier this year). It knows exactly where that will happen, and it knows what it will take to get there.

“With Rivian’s latest move to refresh the R1T and R1S EVs, you can begin to see how the company aims to chart its way forward across the ‘EV valley of death,'” Corey Cantor, senior associate for electric vehicles at BloombergNEF, said in an email to TechCrunch. “If successful, they can use the fruits of this process as they scale-up the R2 and reach the mass market, en route to the R3.”

Other EV startups arguably have a harder path through that “valley of death.”

Take Lucid Motors, for example. The company has a well-regarded product in the Lucid Air sedan. But it has struggled to find buyers for the Air, with its own CEO Peter Rawlinson publicly admitting to failures on the marketing side. It’s only shipped around 12,000 cars to date, at least as of the end of the first quarter of this year.

Lucid Motors is now pinning a lot of its hopes on the forthcoming Gravity SUV. That vehicle should have wider appeal, given the popularity of the SUV form factor. But its success is nowhere near guaranteed, especially because it’s starting at a relatively high price point of “under $80,000.” And Lucid Motors needs the Gravity to succeed if it ever hopes to get to its own planned midsize, mass-market EV.

Other EV startups face more uncertainty. Canoo has changed its business model so many times that it’s often hard to keep tabs on what it plans to do with its bulbous EVs, first revealed in 2019. Currently, the plan is to sell to fleets and government entities. Faraday Future has been spending as much time fighting with its landlords as it has trying to sell its own luxury EV. Fisker is on the brink of bankruptcy after dealing with underwhelming sales of its electric SUV and myriad quality and service problems.

It won’t be easy for Rivian. It’s forecasting essentially no growth this year compared to 2023, and it started off on a flat foot. It may need to raise more money as a result — a challenging feat in the current economy.

But the company says the changes to the R1 lineup set it on the path to reaching “positive gross profit” by the end of this year. That’s a big deal considering Rivian is still losing tens of thousands of dollars on each car it sells. If Rivian wants to survive long enough to ship its more affordable mass-market R2, it really needs these revamped vehicles to sell well.

“The path ahead is clearer than it was a year ago as Rivian has laid out its near-term plans,” Cantor said. “But ultimately execution of both profitability and high-volume EV sales is what is required for Rivian to become one of this decade’s EV success stories.”



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