Auto Makers: US Startups (Part 4F)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. Let’s start with the big three, and within those we’ll take on one parent company per post. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Tesla

Vital Stats: 2004–present, Headquartered in Austin, TX, USA (on Tesla Road, BTW).

The above statement is a tad misleading. Tesla Motors Inc. was born in July 1, 2003 in San Carlos, CA. The Tesla Motors Part lasted until February 2017 when the company was reborn as a Texan.

Noteworthy: Tesla was named after Nicola Tesla, the Romanian super genius who immigrated to America and invented the US invented the Induction Engine and A/C Generator, which were stolen from him by American Industrialist Thomas Edison. You’d think they’d make Tesla cars with 4 Induction Engines (1 per tire) wired in series, giving it 4 wheel drive, four wheel steering and auto power regeneration–but Elon doesn’t consult the Kicker before designing his cars.

Best know as a car maker, Tesla also manufactures related products like home batteries, and solar panels as well as charging stations for their vehicles. The drive behind Tesla is clean energy. While electric vehicles currently use whatever power their local grid provides–by and large fossil fuels–they have created a mode of transportation that doesn’t create emissions in and of itself, which can honestly claim to be doing a big part toward an environmentally friendly future. (If you ignore how much pollution is created mining and making batteries.)

Prototype Roadster

The world’s most valuable automaker with a market capitalization of more than US$760 billion, Tesla owns about 23% and 16% of the full EV and plug-in world market respectively.

Contrary to popular belief Tesla is not the brain child of Billionaire Elon Musk. It was actually incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, then essentially taken over by a $6.5 million investment by Musk in 2004. Musk’s true objective was to raise capital for a private space company, but Tesla is definitely the smartest $6 million he’s spent so far.

Musk, CEO since 2008, is not without controversy, wracking up lawsuits for creative accounting, workers rights violations, and technical issues in their autopilot. Still, with global sales of 936,222 cars in 2021, a 87% increase over the previous year, total Tesla’s sold tops 2.3 million. Tesla is one of the most successful car companies in the world, becoming the sixth US company history to reach a market capitalization over a trillion dollars in October of 2021.

Tesla Models began with a roadster, then the Model S (Sedan), the Model X (SUV), the Model 3 (first EV to sell a million units), and the Model Y (Crossover). Then of course the Cybertruck. An observant reader might notice that subtle name game–S.3.X.Y.

Tesla’s plans for the future? Cheaper cars for the less affluent in society. A Tesla motorcycle seems unlikely based on Musk’s 2018 statement, “we’re not going to do motorcycles.”

Lucid Motors

Vital Stats: 2007–present, Headquartered in Newark, CA. Founded by Bernard Tse and Sam Weng.

Following a model piloted by Elon Musk, Lucid heavily marketed their design ideas and financed part of their start up by selling slots on their waiting list before they even had a product. The first 20 got their cars the day before Halloween, 2021.

In the tradition Dodge and other American Car makers, Lucid first existed to make parts for other EV makers, as a company called Atieva. CEO Peter Rawlinson of Tesla, and Derek Jenkins formerly of Mazda, rebranded the company when they decided to make their own vehicles in 2016, with some investment from  Tsing CapitalMitsuiVenrockJAFCO, among others.

The Lucid Air

Lucid picked Casa Grande, AZ, as their US manufacturing base, and built a plant projected to make a maximum capacity of 380,000 cars per year. It opened 2 years late, but that’s not too bad considering red tape, pandemics and the like. Lucid was acquired by a Saudi Investment fund and has since merged with  Churchill Capital Corp IV, a publicly traded investment fund. The resulting nearly $12 billion investment will complete the factory through phase 4 and allow them to develop their Project Gravity SUV by 2023, then try to start competing with Tesla’s Model 3.

If you feel like $12 billion is a big investment for a company that’s only sold a few hundred cars, you may want to ask your financial advisor where your 401K is. In the mean time, it’ hard to get a feel for how successful this company will be, but it’s poised to make the next few billionaires.

Rivian

Vital Stats: 2009–present, Headquartered in Irvine, CA. because apparently California is the new Michigan.

Rivian’s an EV automaker with a slightly different approach. Rather than starting with a traditional modern unibody car, Rivian has gone straight to the skateboard model, which allows them to make a standardized powertrain platform, upon which they can build an SUV or a Pickup Truck.

This allows them to develop other types of vehicle in the future, or make that platform for other car makers–existing or yet to come. Given the number of semi-manufacturers out of the UK, the Kicker staff wouldn’t be surprised if a company like Caterham or David Brown Automotive, doesn’t grab an investor and build a plant somewhere in the US Land is cheap and business friendly like Texas or North Dakota, then create a Line of EV sports cars based on Rivian’s skateboard.

Rivian raised money via going IPO. Based on Tesla’s performance as a company, investors leapt at the chance to get in on the ground floor of a similar company–they raised $13.5 billion (153 million shares sold).

Rivian manufactures in 5 locations inside the US, with plans to build another factory in Georgia, as well as Canada and the UK.

Robert “RJ” Scaringe, is an American Engineer, Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of what’s now Rivian. It started as Mainstream Motors and got renamed Avera Motors on it’s way to it’s modern incarnation. The original idea was to make a sports car, but that dream grew as investment dollars came in.

Another early stroke of luck was their purchase of the Normal, Illinois Mitsubishi plant for $16 million dollars, including everything inside it. A ready to make facility can accelerate your plans. In 2017, Rivian revealed its first two products: an electric five-passenger pickup truck (A1T) and an electric seven-passenger SUV (A1C), which it renamed in 2018 R1T and R1S, respectively.

Rivian RT1

Rivian employed 250 people in 2018 and by 2021 it employs 9,000. Although they’ve since announced a 6% reduction in workforce, siting economic downturn.

Despite a few delays, the R1T began shipping out in October 2021, making Rivian the first car company to bring an all electric truck to the US market–not GM, not Ford, not even Tesla (although Tesla has since caught up). Ford was counting on a partnership in Rivian to bring an all EV truck to market, but Rivian backed out leaving Ford with a 12% stake in the company worth around $10 billion.

Rivian made news in March of 2022 announcing a retroactive price increase of 17% for the R1T and 20% for the R1S vehicles not yet delivered, citing increased cost of goods to manufacture. Due to backlash, the company recanted their decision for folks waitlisted prior to March 1. (Only reasonable since locking in a price is one of the big advantages to ordering a new car before it even exists.)

The most recent news, aside from their new COO starting early last month, is that Time Magazine added Rivian to their List of 100 Most Influential Companies (2022).

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