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Is Rivian Stock A Buy As Fund Advisor Presses ESG Issues Ahead Of Rivian IPO?

Rivian Automotive rolled out the first all-electric pickup truck, the R1T, on Sept. 14, ahead of its much-anticipated IPO in November. The EV startup has applied to trade under the symbol RIVN on the Nasdaq. But will Rivian stock be a good buy?




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The Amazon (AMZN)- and Ford (F)-backed Rivian’s R1T beat Tesla (TSLA) and General Motors (GM) auto to the punch, as the EV market for electric trucks heats up. Rivian says R1T pickup deliveries began in September, with its R1S SUV due out by year-end.

Rivian Automotive (RIVN) makes its vehicles at its plant in Normal, Ill. The plant has a production capacity of 150,000 units annually.

Rivian last month received regulatory approval to sell and deliver both its R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV in all 50 U.S. states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board fully certified the vehicles, the company confirmed to IBD in an email.

But Rivian is said to be prioritizing production of electric vans for Amazon, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Amazon has ordered 100,000 of Rivian’s electric vans. And while Rivian’s R1T pickup has grabbed headlines recently, Amazon’s vans are more likely to be revenue drivers in the near term. That’s why Rivian is reportedly focused on producing hundreds of vans for Amazon this year, while pickup production is nominal.

Meanwhile, Ford recently vacated its seat on Rivian’s board of directors. Although no announcement was made, Ford VP of corporate development Doug Power stepped down from the post last month, according to a Reuters report.

“Rivian is a strategic investment and we’re still exploring ways for potential collaboration with them,” Ford spokesman Ian Thibodeau said told Reuters on Oct. 13.

First Retail Hub To Open

Rivian announced it is opening its first retail location on Oct. 17 in Venice, Calif.

Rivian’s announcement on its website says the space is a physical location “designed to encourage exchange with our community and for Rivian fans to gather and connect.”

The EV startup also announced it was installing charging stations in all 56 state parks in Tennessee. Its network of Level 2 chargers are open to the public for EVs with J1772 plugs. In a tweet on Oct. 14, Rivian said it’s building out its charging network to have 10,000 locations by 2023.

ESG Pressure

Despite Rivian’s efforts to appeal to outdoor adventurers, Wall Street fund advisor SOC Investment Group called out the company for what it considers its lack of commitment to environmental protection and human rights.

In a letter dated Oct. 20, SOC said Rivian should “adopt policies and procedures to identify, assess, prevent and mitigate human rights and labor rights risks and environmental impacts throughout its value and supply chain.”

The issue is related mainly to battery production for EVs. Much of the lithium and cobalt used for EV batteries are sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been linked to child labor and dangerous working conditions.

Failure to heed its advice exposes Rivian to litigation and repetitional risks, SOC said in the letter. Rivian has not yet responded.

Rivian EV Lineup

The R1T electric pickup starts at around $67,500, before the $7,500 federal tax credit. The seven-seater R1S SUV goes for about $70,000. The preorder launch editions of the two vehicles sold out at the end of 2020.

The R1T and R1S are equipped with the Driver+ advanced driver assistance system. The Level 2 system assists drivers in a wide range of driving and parking situations. Rivian’s R1 vehicles have 11 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, five radars and a high-precision GPS antenna, which work together with purpose-built algorithms to analyze the surrounding environment. 


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Rivian IPO

Rivian plans to go public around Thanksgiving. Irvine-based Rivian reportedly is seeking a valuation of around $80 billion, topping GM’s market cap of around $72 billion and Ford’s market cap of about $53 billion. However, it would still be far below Tesla’s $705 billion valuation.

The company had raised about $10.5 billion in venture capital funding as of mid-2021, including from Amazon and Ford.

The Rivian IPO will be sure to get a huge amount of attention. But investors shouldn’t try to be the first to buy RIVN stock off the lot. With new issues, investors should wait for initial price discovery and see how they shake out over several days or weeks. Look to see if Rivian stock can form an IPO base.

Rivian’s Bold Debut

Rivian began deliveries of its R1T, a two-row five-passenger pickup truck, in September.

In an Oct. 1 filing announcing its IPO plans with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Rivian said it plans to launch and begin deliveries for the R1S, a three-row seven-passenger sport utility vehicle, in December.

Rivian expects to deliver 20,000 vehicles in 2021. It projects doubling that figure for 2022.

In the S-1 filing, Rivian said it had 48,390 preorders for its R1T pickup and R1S SUV in North America as of Sept. 30. Preorders require a $1,000 refundable deposit.

Founded in 2009 by CEO RJ Scaringe, Rivian enters a growing and increasingly competitive landscape for electric vehicles. A wide array of EV models will launch in the U.S. over the next several months. CFRA Research analyst Garrett Nelson said in a recent note to clients that startups Rivian and Lucid (LCID) are rolling out EVs “with compelling specs.” Lucid plans to launch its high-end Lucid Air in late October.


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Rivian Faces Fierce EV Pickup Competition

The Rivian R1T is the first electric pickup to market, but not the last.

“Several traditional automakers and EV new entrants have announced plans to launch EV pickups in the 2021 through 2024 time frame,” Goldman Sachs told clients in April.

GM plans to begin deliveries of its high-end EV Hummer later this year. General Motors will follow up with a Silverado EV as well as a GMC electric pickup for 2023. Ford’s first electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning, is coming in spring 2022. It has a targeted range of 300 miles vs. the Rivian’s truck’s 314-mile range per charge.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Cybertruck production won’t begin until late 2022, with volume production not until late 2023. That could reflect issues with mass producing 4680 batteries, key to making the Cybertruck and the long-delayed Semi and Roadster viable.

Tesla filed a lawsuit against Rivian and a number of former Tesla/current Rivian employees in July 2020 in California alleging trade secrets misappropriations. It recently added to that lawsuit. Rivian says it will fight the charges vigorously.

Rivian Throws Weight In Large SUVs

Goldman Sachs analysts say SUVs will continue to be an important segment of the auto industry. SUVs account for 51% of total light vehicle sales in the U.S. vs. 30% about a decade ago. And SUVs made up 36% of sales in Western Europe as of 2020 vs. 10% in 2020.

In the full-size EV SUV space, Tesla led the way with its Model X. But a Model X refresh has gone slowly, while sales are relatively small. The Rivian R1S will have an opportunity to make inroads. GM is coming out with the luxury Cadillac Lyriq in early 2022.

In the commercial market, Rivian has a deal to make 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon.com. It plans to deliver the EDVs to Amazon by 2025. Rivian says it expects to deliver at least 10 vehicles in December 2021. But Rivian’s reliance on one big customer is risky.

GM and Ford plan to release electric versions of their delivery vans this year.

Rivian also has plans to open a second factory that will not only build EVs but also battery cells.

Direct-To-Consumer Model

Rivian’s direct-to-customer model allows it to manage all sales, deliveries and service operations in-house without relying on a franchised dealership network or other third parties. So far, 22 states and the District of Columbia allow Rivian to sell directly to consumers. Those states include California, Florida, Arizona and Illinois.

Rivian maintains that, as a matter of interstate commerce, it can sell Rivian vehicles to any consumer in any state from a legally licensed Rivian retail location. However, getting Rivian vehicles serviced in those states could prove challenging.

Service for customers residing in those states would be from a mobile unit dispatched from a licensed service location in a nearby state where direct warranty service is allowed. Otherwise, Rivian customers have to drive their vehicle or have it towed to a state with a physical service location.

As of Sept. 30, 2021, it operated six service centers in California, Illinois, Washington and New York. It had 11 mobile service vehicles and a 24/7 service support center in Michigan. The company also has 24 Rivian Adventure Network Direct Current fast-charging sites in seven states, and 145 Rivian Waypoints charging sites in 30 states. It has also secured 20 service center locations for further expansion.

But several states are challenging Rivian’s DTC model, citing dealership laws. In March, several auto dealership groups in Illinois sued both Rivian and Lucid over their DTC sales model, which they say is illegal.


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Rivian’s Financials

Rivian has yet to post a profit, which is not surprising given that deliveries have not yet started. It had net losses of $426 million and $1 billion for 2019 and 2020, respectively. For the three months ended Sept. 30, 2021, Rivian reported a $288 million loss.

Rivian says it doesn’t expect to be profitable for the foreseeable future. The company intends to use net proceeds from the Rivian IPO for working capital, to fund growth and for other general corporate purposes. 

Rivian sees a $9 trillion total addressable market. Rivals include traditional ICE and EV automakers. Downstream competitors include a patchwork of third parties such as charging providers, vehicle service providers and traditional fleet management companies, the company said.

Rivian To Offer Charging Membership Plan

As production of its EVs ramps up, Rivian has also introduced a membership program that will grant Rivian owners access to complementary charging at its soon-to-be-built Adventure Network and Waypoints chargers.

It also pledged to match every mile Rivian Membership customers drive with energy from renewable resources such as wind and solar, as well as offer unlimited access to 4G LTE connectivity.

Additionally, the service includes Rivian off-Roadside Assistance. Each new Rivian vehicle will come with 12 months of free access to the service. The company hasn’t said how much it plans to charge for the service.

Rivian’s Telematic-Based Insurance

Rivian has established its own insurance agency and digital interfaces to manage customer sales, service and renewals. It’s partnering with leading U.S. insurance carriers as underwriters.

“This approach ensures that we own the front-end user experience for the insurance workflow,” the company said in the SEC filing. “We will also earn profit-sharing and performance bonuses based on growth and low loss costs.”

Rivian will gather vehicle sensor and claims data from the field. Over time, it expects to leverage this rich field data to tailor the insurance product to maximize conversion and margin potential.

Rivian will offer a full line of insurance products in 48 states for now, with coverage from vehicles to accessories.

Elon Musk has long touted a Tesla Insurance service. But Tesla is currently operating as an insurance broker, meaning it helps customers find policies from various underwriters.

Is Rivian Stock A Buy?

Rivian stock hasn’t gone public yet. Deliveries are getting underway, meaning Rivian will start generating revenue, with rapid growth from essentially zero seen. But heavy losses are likely to continue for some time.

Until RIVN stock has some sort of track record following the Rivian IPO, investors won’t have a clear buy point.

Bottom line: Rivian stock will not be a buy right when it comes public. But keep an eye on this intriguing EV startup to see if its sets up a bullish base.

Follow Adelia Cellini Linecker on Twitter @IBD_Adelia.

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