Tesla CEO Elon Musk knows a thing or two about struggling through the toughest financial circumstances when starting an electric vehicle company. He recently described some of his thoughts on Rivian, an EV startup that is struggling with the early manufacturing and financial woes that are synonymous with the early days of owning an electric vehicle maker.
Rivian came onto the scene several years ago when it unveiled the R1T pickup, which was set to be the most high-tech and advanced truck on the market. Deliveries started late last year and the truck surely did not disappoint owners, as build quality and the truck’s utility were enough to give the R1T early promise. Meanwhile, Rivian is fending off a struggling performance on the stock market, manufacturing growing pains, and figuring out affordability with its products in its early days.
Recently, the company scrambled some of its executives by parting with the VP of Manufacturing, Charly Mwangi. CEO RJ Scaringe stated in an email to employees that “This is an important time for our growing business, all of which is happening in an extremely challenging environment. We are well-positioned for long-term success, but we must continuously evaluate how we operate.”
The changeup saw Frank Klein assume the role of Manufacturing VP while also performing the duties of his traditional role of COO. The changes are not out of the ordinary for an EV startup, but other events in Rivian’s recent history have given the indication that they’re still working through growing pains.
In March, Rivian hiked prices on R1T and R1S vehicles and stated that finalized orders would not be affected. This sent customers who placed but didn’t finalize their orders into a frenzy because the price hikes applied to their vehicles. Prices increased by at least 17 percent before Rivian backtracked and honored orders placed on or before March 1.
Despite the company being in its early phases and still having monumental financial support from backers like Amazon, Musk offered a few words of advice when discussing the affordability threshold for producing cars with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley and others.
“That affordability threshold is very important,” Musk said. “It must both be a good value for money and be affordable in order to achieve good unit volumes. And where car companies can get, kind of, painted into a corner of doom is: If the cost of a car is so high that they have to raise the price of the car to the point where the price of the car is…and Rivian, I think, has this problem, you know, they’re going to need to fix it, or they’re in deep trouble…they raise the price to the point where only a very small number of people can afford the car, no matter how desirable it is. Then, at that point, if you cannot achieve a unit volume that covers your fixed costs, you’re screwed.”
Musk previously offered advice to Rivian when reports of a second factory in the United States began to develop. Musk advised the company to ramp manufacturing at its first facility before committing to a second factory, but Rivian moved forward with plans to build a plant in Georgia, which has faced backlash from several groups.
I’d recommend they get their first plant working. It’s insanely difficult to reach volume production at affordable unit cost.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 11, 2021
Despite Musk’s want for Tesla to be on top, he realizes more than one company will be needed to continue with the EV transition. Musk’s advice may fall of deaf ears, but it is certainly known within Rivian that the struggles may continue through this growth period. Staying resilient could pay dividends, and the company could one day become profitable and amongst the best EV brands on Earth.
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