Rivian, an Electric Truck Maker, Files for an I.P.O.

Auto analysts consider Rivian one of the most viable electric vehicle start-ups in what is expected to be a very competitive market.

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Rivian, a promising and well-funded electric truck maker, plans to sell shares through an initial public offering, the company said Friday, just weeks before it expects to deliver its first electric pickups to customers.

The company, which has raised more than $10 billion from investors that include Amazon and Ford Motor, is building an electric pickup truck and sport utility vehicle at a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois. Its founder, R.J. Scaringe, told customers last month that he expected the truck to ship in September and the S.U.V. to follow soon after. The company is also developing delivery vans for Amazon.

Rivian is aiming to list its shares at a valuation of roughly $70 billion, a person familiar with the matter said. That would be higher than the market capitalization of Ford, making the company one of the most valuable automakers in the world. A Rivian representative declined to comment on the valuation it is seeking and declined to provide more details about its offering.

Wall Street investors have tended to think highly of electric vehicle companies in the last couple of years, largely because of the success of Tesla, the dominant maker of electric cars. Tesla is the world’s most valuable automaker by far, with a market capitalization of about $700 billion. Lucid Motors, which makes luxury electric cars and recently joined Nasdaq through a merger, has a $34 billion valuation. That is roughly half of what the market thinks General Motors is worth, even though Lucid has not yet delivered any cars to customers.

Auto analysts consider Rivian one of the most viable electric vehicle start-ups in what is expected to be a very competitive market. In addition to Tesla, large automakers like G.M., Volkswagen and Ford plan to introduce dozens of electric cars and trucks in the coming years.

“It’s an E.V. juggernaut — it has the pedigree with Amazon, Ford and a who’s who of backers,” said Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “Investors have been waiting for the day where a Rivian would go public.”

If the company’s electric pickup truck does roll out in September, it will beat the electric GMC Hummer pickup truck from G.M., expected by the end of the year, and Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning. The gas-powered F-150 has long been America’s best-selling vehicle, and the electric version could become an instant force in the electric vehicle market when it debuts, most likely in the spring.

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Rivian is also planning to expand a network of charging sites and service centers, said Mr. Scaringe, an engineer who has a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the July email to customers.

The company may be entering a crowded field, but it has a different approach from that of Tesla, the pioneer that most people think of when they think of electric cars. Tesla found great success in selling sporty sedans, but it has yet to place a heavy focus on pickup trucks and vehicles capable of going off the road — lucrative segments of the auto industry. Rivian has focused on producing “adventure” vehicles that it says are made for trails and dirt roads.

“Rivian is one of the best-positioned electric vehicle start-ups,” Asad Hussain, senior mobility analyst for PitchBook, said by email. “The company’s focus on the relatively untapped premium electric truck market should allow it to gain rapid market adoption.”

The leaders of Rivian and Tesla are also starkly different. Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has been a brash and combative force in the automotive industry, making big promises and engaging in public feuds with individuals and government agencies. Mr. Scaringe is understated and has been measured in his public statements and promises.

Still, both executives are immersed in the details of their business. Mr. Musk has said he has slept at his company’s main factory in Fremont, Calif., at important moments when Tesla was ramping up production. Mr. Scaringe is also a frequent presence at Rivian’s factory in Normal, Ill., and workers there refer to the color of robots and safety lines directing the flow of people as “R.J. Blue.” He has been known to weigh in on vehicle colors, including one known as “launch green.”

This year, a state judge in California allowed Tesla to proceed with a lawsuit in which it contends that Rivian stole intellectual property by hiring away employees. Rivian has said the lawsuit has no merit and is intended to hurt a fast-growing competitor.

Though Rivian has existed in some form since 2009, it faced frequent skepticism through much of the last decade over a product that seemed distant and speculative, Mr. Scaringe said in an interview in June.

“In the very beginning, on Day 1, Year 1, the risk of starting a business like this is enormously high, and the likelihood of success was very low,” he said. “That’s just true. And I had to accept that.”

But Mr. Scaringe said he remained confident in his team and in the strategic plan they had assembled: First, raise enough money to develop core technologies — software, battery architecture, mechanical systems — that could support vehicles for both consumers and commercial customers; then raise more capital to mass produce trucks and vans.

Rivian appeared to embark on that second phase a few years ago. In the fall of 2018, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, flew to Michigan to meet Mr. Scaringe and preview the company’s vehicles. By the end of the next year, Rivian had raised nearly $3 billion from investors including Ford and Amazon, which also ordered 100,000 delivery vans.

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Rivian’s R1T could reach consumers before electric pickup trucks from G.M. and Ford.Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

“We knew we needed to build out some strategic partners that would allow us to scale into different segments and importantly be able to capture this fleet side,” Mr. Scaringe said. “Amazon saw a lot of merit in how we’d approached both building the business and the opportunity for us to work together.”

When Mr. Bezos flew into space last month aboard a rocket built by his Blue Origin business, he and the rest of his crew hitched a ride to the launchpad in a Rivian vehicle.

Rivian’s other large backers include BlackRock, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price.

The company’s decision to pursue an I.P.O. is notable for another reason. More than two dozen companies producing electric vehicles, batteries and chargers have gone public or intend to by merging with special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, according to Dealogic, a research firm.

Deals with SPACs are considered a fast track to public markets, while an I.P.O. is a more rigorous process that tends to take longer and comes with greater scrutiny. In recent months, some investors and regulators have questioned the optimistic statements made by the creators of SPACs and the businesses they have acquired, including a handful of electric vehicle companies.

By filing the confidential paperwork for an I.P.O. with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Rivian and its existing investors will retain far more control and ownership of their business than in a SPAC deal. The sponsors of those acquisition companies generally take a big chunk of the ownership of a business as compensation for getting it on a stock exchange quickly.

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