Rivian is not Tesla. This is exactly what these buyers want

Today Tesla dominates the world of electric vehicles, sale about two in three electric vehicles sold in the United States. It is worth more than twice as much as any other automaker. Teslas are a status symbol and its CEO, Elon Musk, is a celebrity, with 59 million more Twitter followers than the next most popular automotive CEO.

But there is a part of the market that wants an electric car that is specifically turned off by Tesla’s lineup, its CEO, and in some cases both. It could prove to be a godsend for one of his rivals.

CNN Business interviewed 12 drivers who have pre-orders with Rivian, the American automaker focused on electric trucks and SUVs that’s should go public Later this year. They say a key part of Rivian’s appeal is how different he is from Tesla.

Vehicles are more suited to an outdoor lifestyle, and they look more conventional, with a square style and a rugged appearance, they say. Many Rivian enthusiasts have said they soured on Musk, especially his tweets, and found themselves identifying more with Rivian’s low-key CEO RJ Scaringe. Some said Rivian’s focus on the environment seemed more sincere, and his mission was more people-focused than Tesla and Musk.

“I really don’t like dumb CEOs. It turns me off the product,” said Carter Gibson, who is a California off-roader and snowboarder, and has ordered a Rivian to replace his Toyota 4Runner.

Some EV enthusiasts say their view of Musk has changed over the years. They bring to mind when Musk called a rescuer in Thailand a “pedo guy, as well as his comments about Tesla share price that attracted the Securities and Exchange Commission meticulous examination and a reprimand. (Musk has mocked the SEC too.)

“Sometimes Musk can sound like a Bond villain or something, RJ doesn’t give me those vibes,” said Stephen Henken of Montgomery, Alabama, who drives a Prius today and has ordered a Rivian R1S.

Scaringe, who holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, founded Rivian in 2009, and over the next 12 years the company strived to grow into a true automaker in its own right before selling a single car.

The company bought a former Mitsubishi manufacturing plant in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, in 2017. Rivian has raised $ 10.5 billion since 2019, including from tech and auto titans Amazon and Ford, respectively, and has a deal with Amazon for 100,000 delivery trucks.

But Rivian’s success is not guaranteed. He is too young to have built brand loyalty or a national network to maintain his vehicles. He will have to prove, too, that he can mass produce vehicles at a profit, a challenge Tesla has already survived, but not without hiccups.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment and does not generally engage with professional news media.

A real electric truck

Matt Thomson, a Denver real estate agent, says he spends up to $ 700 a month on gasoline on his GMC Sierra, taking customers to visit homes or tow his horses. He said he was tired of needing an oil change every two months.

Thomson says he’s generally not a risk taker or early adopter. But he pre-ordered Rivian’s pickup truck, the R1T, and his wife has a pre-order for the company’s SUV, the R1S.

Thomson said he waited eight years for someone to build a truck like Rivian’s. He felt Tesla’s vehicles were not a good fit. Tesla’s Model X can only tow 5,000 pounds, and Thomson isn’t interested in the distinct, square styles and crisp lines of Tesla’s Cybertruck, which was both rented and the jokes.

“When we go into a horse show, you now have [Ford] F-150, you got GMC Sierra, [Chevy] Silverados and that’s it, “Thomson said.” You just kind of want to blend in. “

Andy Crews, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he always liked his father’s pickup, but felt guilty that he only drove 12 miles per gallon. He walks or runs on trails every day and waits for an electric pickup, he said. Crews said he loved Tesla and had owned a Model S since 2013, but didn’t want a Cybertruck.

“It’s built out of creepy steel,” Crews said, “but it looks ugly.”

“It’s probably actually a very practical vehicle, if there is an apocalypse,” he added.

Rivian, on the other hand, sells itself as a down-to-earth, adventure-oriented business. Scaringe has noted that the company’s mission is “to inspire people to do more of the things they love, while minimizing our impact on the planet”.

Rivian paint colors have names like glacier white, forest green, and compass yellow. The company offers an option to purchase a tent that mounts on its vehicles and sells specific racks for bikes, snowboards, skis, kayaks and surfboards. Traditional automakers like Ford, GM and Subaru offer similar accessories; Tesla does not.

“Rivian has thought more than Tesla about who is going to drive it, how he is going to feel driving it and what he is going to do,” said Ryan Michael McCarthy, who describes himself as not a pickup truck guy. He wants Rivian’s truck because it looks so functional: he has a $ 5,000 option for a small kitchen that comes out from the side of the vehicle, complete with a stove, sink, and utensils.

McCarthy, who lives outside of Chicago, said watching Rivian’s videos, like employee testing vehicles at minus-40 degrees, attracted him.

“They feel like family,” McCarthy said. “You feel like you want to be a part of them and their culture.”

New Jersey resident Matt Bowen, who describes himself as a “jaded millennial,” said it’s rare to see a company that he believes cares as much about their customers as they do about the product itself. He was impressed with the gifts Rivian had sent to some future clients, including one welcome package for a puppy, and his environmental and community partnerships.

“It’s a full mission and I love it,” said Bowen, a father who lives on a farm and has pre-ordered a Rivian SUV. “We are happy that there is an alternative to the Model X that better meets our needs and I think it will fit better with our lifestyle and our philosophy. “

Crews said he believed Rivian was particularly trying to tackle global warming. He pointed out Rivian’s commitment that its exclusive charging network for its vehicles will be supplied 100% with renewable energy.

Tesla has noted several times since 2012 that its Supercharger network will be powered solely by renewable energies. A Tesla employee would have said last April that the grid would become fully renewable by the end of the year. (The employee’s statement on LinkedIn is no longer available.)

Too promising and under-deliverable?

Renewable energy is one of the many cases where Rivian’s pre-incumbents felt Tesla had over-promised and underestimated. Another example they cited was Tesla’s autopilot and ‘fully autonomous driving’ technology, which has been delayed several times.

Of course, there is a risk that Rivian himself will make too many promises and not deliver enough. It has already delayed the delivery of its vehicles, and the road to full production can inevitably come with its own challenges.

David Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business, said Rivian’s team, product and investors all look promising, but there’s no guarantee they’ll meet expectations. Rivian was the first to market a modern electric pickup, but it remains to be seen exactly what the demand for electric pickups is.

Rivian will also have to prove that he can mass produce vehicles at a profit. There are always uncertainties for new car manufacturers when switching from batch to mass production. Costs could rise, which could reduce Rivian’s profits, or wipe them out altogether.

“Rivian is priced like he’s already been through the abyss of production hell,” Kirsch said of reports Rivian is as popular as Ford or GM. “It could take a lot more time or money, or they could run out of time and money.”

Provided Rivian can manufacture on a large scale, he will also have to show that he can properly support and maintain his trucks after the sale, which Tesla has struggled with at times.

“You see concept images of a car, you are excited. You see a facility to build it, you are excited. You see production versions and get more excited,” said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com . “But none of that means anything once the person buys the car.”

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About Marco C. Nichols

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