EV Battle: Rivian, Tesla, Lucid and Nikola

Michael Wenner
Feb 14th
It’s no longer your grandparents’ automotive industry. As a matter of fact, it’s evolving so rapidly it’s no longer even your parents’ auto industry. In fact, the automotive industry has become one of the quickest-changing industries in the world.

The American automotive industry that has for decades been ruled by the big three out of Detroit—General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler, is now seeing competitors building electric vehicles popping up all over the country.

Tesla makes all of the headlines, but there are a few other automobile manufacturers that are making sure they are part of the electric vehicle conversation that is increasingly becoming a hot topic.

Lucid Motors

In 2007, a company named Atieva formed to build electric vehicle batteries and powertrains for other vehicle manufacturers. Six years later, the company brought on Peter Rawlinson as its Chief Technology Officer. We know what you’re thinking—who is Peter Rawlinson? Rawlinson was the VP of Engineering at Tesla and served as Chief Engineer on the Model S, one of the best-selling electric vehicles of all time. Two years after Rawlinson joined Atieva, they made another huge hire, bringing in Derek Jenkins, who was Head of Design at Mazda North America.

With two industry veterans on board, Atieva decided to change its name and strategy in 2016. Atieva rebranded to Lucid Motors and announced it would develop an all-electric, high-performance luxury vehicle. A few months later, Lucid unveiled the Lucid Air after two years in development. The fully electric vehicle has a front motor and a rear motor, giving it a total horsepower of 1,000 hp and will go from 0 – 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Rawlinson and Jenkins oversee all aspects of the Lucid Air, which is set to debut at the New York Auto Show this April. Production is slated to start later this year when the first phase of Lucid’s $700 million Arizona factory is complete.

Rawlinson is confident the Lucid Air will be a game-changer. “Tesla is a 400-volt. Porsche is introducing a 800-volt system. We are going with a over 900-volt system,” Rawlinson said. “Tesla hasn’t cracked it. We can take it to a whole new level of range and efficiency.”

A few weeks after Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk said he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private, with the help of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the Saudis responded by investing $1 billion in Lucid, shunning Tesla. Lucid previously held talks with Ford to be acquired, but ultimately walked. The company instead plans to share its technology with other automakers and IPO within a few years.

Nikola Motor Company

Another company working hard to get its cut of the automotive industry pie is Nikola Motor Company. Founded in 2014, Nikola’s mission doesn’t beat around the bush —“Transform the transportation industry while improving our employees' lives and leaving the world a better place.”

Led by founder Trevor Milton, Nikola has already collected more than $14 billion in pre-orders for its Nikola Two hydrogen-electric truck. The truck, which is expected to begin production in 2022, has had such an impact that CNH Industrial, a European manufacturer of heavy-duty vehicles, invested $250 million in Nikola for a 7.7% stake in the company. Along with the $265 million previously invested in Nikola, the startup’s valuation topped $3 billion following CNH’s Series D investment. Nikola is hoping to get thousands of its hydrogen-powered trucks, which can travel up to 750 miles before needing refueling, on the road this decade. Nikola even intends to build and operate its own fueling stations for its fleet.

Nikola, despite being the smaller startup, has already picked a fight with industry giant Tesla. Nikola filed a $2 billion lawsuit against Tesla in 2018 claiming Tesla infringed on several of its patents in its design of the Tesla Semi. Tesla said “It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit.”

Rivian Automotive

Another company that is making sure it won’t be left out of the future of the American automotive industry is Rivian Automotive. Rivian, which is headquartered just 25 miles from the heart of the American automotive industry in Detroit, was founded in 2009 and is working on an electric sport utility vehicle and pickup truck. Both of Rivian’s vehicles, the R1T and R1S, are semi-autonomous and designed for on-road and off-road driving. The vehicles are slated to go into production later this year.

Rivian refers to its low-center-of-gravity base chassis as a “skateboard," and intends to license it to other manufacturers. Investors are taking notice. Rivian is extremely well-funded and has even drawn the interest of industry veteran Ford, which invested $500 million in the company. “We want to maintain a meaningful value in the ownership and future of that company,” a Ford spokesman said of Rivian. 

In total, Rivian has raised about $3.5 billion, including other investors such as Amazon, T. Rowe Price and Cox Automotive at a valuation estimated to be in the range of $5 billion to $7 billion. Amazon, along with its investment, even ordered 100,000 delivery vans from Rivian to meet its goal of having its delivery fleet consisting of 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Tesla

Despite all the hype of these startups, Tesla isn’t to be forgotten. Tesla which already has a successful line of vehicles, recently introduced its futuristic-looking Cyber Truck. The Cyber Truck, despite instantly becoming a meme when Elon Musk tested the sturdiness of the windows only to see them shatter, has already received more than 250,000 preorders. The Cyber Truck is expected to begin production next year at a starting price of $39,900.

Musk wants the Cyber Truck to replace gas-guzzling trucks that are some of the top-selling trucks in the world. When asked by Kara Swisher if he wants to go after people  “that buy F— whatever,” Musk replied “You know, I actually don’t know if a lot of people will buy this pickup truck or not, but I don’t care. I mean I do care, eventually, you know. Like sure, I care. We wanna get gasoline, diesel pickup trucks off the road.”

With shares of Tesla soaring over the last year, making it the second-most valuable automaker in the world, it’s clear investors are interested in investing in electric vehicle manufacturers. With these startups creating so many cars that are quickly disrupting the automotive industry, one of the bigger questions may be can they even reach the public markets before the larger manufacturers try to acquire them?

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