On Nov. 11, Irvine-based Rivian held the most spectacular initial public offering since Facebook debuted in 2012 – making it the world’s third most valuable automaker, ahead of industry icons GM and Ford.
The Wall Street debut, which left Rivian valued at around $86 billion, highlights Irvine’s increasing role as a center for electric vehicles.
“Irvine is the new Silicon Valley,” says Huolin Xin, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine, adding, “It’s definitely the new hub for electric vehicles.”
‘Like no other truck we’ve ever driven’
Rivian, producer of the world’s first and fastest electric truck, is now the undisputed star of Irvine’s burgeoning electric vehicle, or EV, industry. Even before its IPO, it had attracted more than $8 billion from high-powered investors, including Amazon, Ford and T. Rowe Price.
Some call the company the next Tesla. It plans to produce two innovative “electric adventure vehicles”: the R1S, a seven-passenger SUV, and the R1T, a pickup truck, as well as a delivery van for Amazon, which has ordered 100,000 of them. Production of those vans is scheduled to begin this month.
The SUV, “designed to take families, friends, dogs and all your gear on long road trips to the places you love,” starts at $70,000 and can take you 316 miles without recharging. The pickup, starting at $67,500, has a range of 314 miles.
“Simply put, the R1T is like no other truck we’ve ever driven,” gushes Motortrend, calling the pickup “effortlessly powerful, incredibly comfortable, and supremely capable both on- and off-road. It can even tow up to 11,000 pounds and haul up to 1,760 pounds.”
An explicit sense of purpose
A key to the company’s appeal is its explicit sense of purpose, as voiced by its modest yet charismatic founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe, who now calls Irvine home. “We have an expression within the company,” Scaringe has said. “It’s about our kids’ kids’ kids. … That’s how we frame it in our heads, and it’s what we as a team have to remember.”
Scaringe founded Rivian in 2009, when he was just 26 years old. He had grown up in Melbourne, Florida, and earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab. He named the startup after Florida’s Indian River (“Riv” from River and “ian” from Indian), near his old home, while he and his father took out second mortgages to raise the initial funds.
Scaringe, a vegan, has promised to set aside 1% of the company’s stock to contribute to projects to address the climate-change and biodiversity crises.
EV sales increased 160%
Throughout the world, only 1 in 250 cars on the road today is electric, with EVs accounting for just 2.2% of the global market share. Yet the industry is booming. Even during the pandemic, global EV sales increased by 160% in the first half of 2021 from a year earlier, to 2.6 million units, according to research firm Canalys.
Market-research firm AutoPacific forecasts a fivefold jump in EV sales by 2026. In a recent Pew poll, about 7% of Americans said they already owned an electric or hybrid vehicle, and 39% said they’d consider purchasing one.
A California site makes special sense for the EV industry given the Golden State’s appetite for electric cars. Californians buy almost half of the EVs sold in the United States.
Earlier this year, Rivian told the Standard that the firm chose Irvine due to “access to top talent, to off-road driving, the beach and the diversity that California has to offer.”
It’s a synergy of sunshine and star innovators that’s hard to beat.