Everyone knows that Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) makes trucks, and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) makes electric vehicles. But Rivian Automotive? What the heck is that?

By the time 2020 is out, I suspect absolutely no one will be asking this question.

If you haven't heard of Rivian Automotive yet, here's a quick rundown.

Rivian R1T electric truck.

Image source: Rivian Automotive.

Rivian and its trucks

Based in Plymouth, Michigan, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence Rivian Automotive set up shop back in 2009 (although we didn't start hearing a lot about it until just last year). The company hasn't begun operations yet, really, but plans to begin selling its first two electric trucks, the R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV, in late 2020.

Kelley Blue Book advises that both models will seat at least five passengers, with the R1S having an optional three-row, seven-passenger configuration. As all-electric vehicles, they will not have a gas engine -- but may not need one to allay consumers' range anxiety, because both vehicles will be rated for between 300 and 410 miles fully charged.  

Because they're trucks, they'll boast significant towing capacity -- 11,000 pounds for the R1T and 7,700 pounds for the R1S. And because they're electric, they'll be able to go really fast when not towing a boat or camper -- accelerating from 0 to 60 in as little as three seconds.

Neither truck will be cheap. Rivian expects to price the R1T at $69,000 to start, and the R1S at $72,500, both prices before state and federal tax credits.

Rivian and its money

Now admittedly, none of this information will make much difference to consumers (or investors) if Rivian goes bust, or fails to produce the products it's promised. But recent financing rounds suggest that Rivian will in fact have the cash it needs to go the distance.

Last year, for example, Rivian attracted a $700 million investment from a consortium led by Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), which later awarded Rivian a contract to produce 100,000 electric delivery vans specially designed for Amazon's use. (Deliveries will begin in 2020 or 2021, and continue through 2024).  

In swift succession, Rivian won a further $500 million investment from a company you'd think would consider it a rival -- Ford -- and $350 million from privately held Cox Automotive.

Those investments alone probably would have been enough to make Rivian a viable contender to Tesla, which has an SUV of its own on the market already (Model X), and announced an electric pickup truck offering in November (Cybertruck). But in the waning days of December, Rivian won an even bigger investment -- more money than Ford and Amazon ponied up, combined.

On Monday, December 23, Rivian announced it had secured a $1.3 billion investment from "funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc." With that money in hand, Rivian ended the year with nearly $3 billion in new funding. Given that the company already has a production plant to build in (Mitsubishi's old plant in Normal, Illinois), $3 billion should be just enough cash to develop the three closely related truck/van models revealed so far. According to autoblog.com, the average cost to develop new cars is about $1 billion per model.  

Rivian has a new trick

Of course, the question still remains: Will Rivian's trucks sell?

According to Wall Street Journal auto reporter Dan Neil, "we are living through the S-curve of EV adoption," and 2020 could very well become the year of the electric "car." That being said, there are going to be a lot of electric cars coming to market this year to choose from, with more than a dozen new models coming on line to compete with existing fare such as Tesla's Models S, 3, and X and Nissan's Leaf.  

Although it's hard to keep track of all the moving parts, WSJ alone highlights Volvo's XC40 Recharge, Ford's Mustang Mach-E, and Mini's Mini Cooper SE as viable contenders in addition to Tesla's and Nissan's wares. At starting prices ranging from $60,500 (Ford) to just $30,750 (Mini), each of these new rivals underprices Rivian's offering.  

One thing Rivian has got, however, that everyone else has not: Last week, Rivian released a video demonstrating its new "tank turn" feature that will be available for both the R1T and R1S. Like a modern main battle tank, the truck's four electric motors can spin in different directions, enabling the truck to literally turn on a dime -- spinning itself around a fixed point.  

Probably thought up as a way to market the truck to off-roaders initially, this feature would also make Rivian's truck incredibly maneuverable in tight spaces, such as might be encountered on construction sites, in crowded driveways, and parking garages -- the latter perhaps a valuable selling point to suburban shoppers. Combined with the right software, I suspect Rivian's tank-turn feature will also make parallel parking in even the tightest spaces a breeze.

Long story short, yes, this truck will sell. Now, all Rivian needs to do is build it.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.