Few stocks capture the market's imagination and ire quite like Rivian (RIVN -9.03%), the electric vehicle (EV) start-up that's only recently started generating revenue. Shares more than doubled from the IPO price of $78 per share but have now fallen sharply from their highs.
Those who question Rivian's valuation seem to have control of the market today, and there are certainly a lot of questions facing this manufacturer. But there's also a lot to like, and there are three big reasons why I think Rivian may not be a bad buy today.
Rivian is disrupting in all the right places
I think one of the most disruptive aspects of Tesla's (TSLA -6.32%) business model compared to General Motors (GM -4.37%), Ford (F -2.86%), or Toyota's (TM -1.34%) is that Tesla owns the dealer and service network. This allows the company to reach customers directly, controlling pricing and the sales experience. It also means Tesla keeps the margin that usually goes to dealers. This isn't the only reason Tesla has better margins than legacy automakers, but it's one reason, and Rivian is copying the model.
Rivian is also entering a high-margin market that's been untouched by electric vehicles -- trucks and SUVs. Tesla has made crossovers, but so far no one has launched a real truck or an SUV that comfortably sits seven people with room for luggage in the back. Trucks and SUVs are typically the highest-margin vehicles sold by automakers, so disrupting this market could be a high margin opportunity for Rivian.
Rivian is also serving a very niche market of people who want to go "off the beaten path", or at least want to own a vehicle that makes it look like they do. That's why the company's "waypoint" chargers planned for thousands of locations across the U.S. and Canada should be a differentiator. Some charging stations will be in parking lots for hotels and restaurants, but many will be in parks. The map of planned waypoint chargers shows the company is focusing on challenging areas in the Rocky Mountains and hills of Appalachia, not just the highways across the country.
A foundation to build on
Despite the fact that Rivian has generated almost no revenue and is very early in its production, the company has a great foundation of orders to build on. Amazon has ordered 100,000 delivery trucks, and there were over 50,000 pre-orders for R1T trucks and R1S SUVs even before the publicity Rivian got by going public on Nov. 10.
The company has also built a very scalable design that could translate to more products. The R1 platform is the foundation of the R1T and R1S, but the RCV, or Rivian Commercial Vehicle, platform is at the foundation of the Amazon delivery vehicle. And RCV vehicles will also have the option for FleetOS, a set of features to manage a fleet of commercial vehicles. In the S-1 filing with the SEC, Rivian said:
Over the next several years, we intend to launch multiple vehicles within the consumer and commercial segments. These vehicles will serve a variety of form factors, price points, use cases, and geographies. We intend to utilize our existing R1 and RCV platforms and develop new platforms to underpin our diverse product portfolio of vehicles. We expect the high degree of modularity and flexibility in our platforms will drive lower costs and faster product development cycles, reducing time to market.
In short, the platforms make adding consumer and commercial vehicles to the lineup easier, so we should expect a regular cadence of new vehicles once production gets up and running.
Brand awareness is improving quickly
A few weeks ago, awareness of the Rivian brand was pretty limited to people who follow EVs closely. According to Google Trends, search interest in the word "Rivian" was 1/20th the volume for "Tesla" search interest in the last week of October. Over the last two weeks, search volume for "Rivian" is over half the searches for "Tesla".
One of the biggest reasons for Tesla's success is the marketing power of Tesla and Elon Musk. The company doesn't spend any money on advertising yet can generate billions of dollars in revenue because of its brand awareness. Rivian isn't there yet, but it has enough awareness that it's not likely to spend money on marketing in the near future. That's a great sign for an EV start-up.
Reasons to like Rivian stock today
There are plenty of reasons to question Rivian's stock price today. The company hasn't proven it has the ability to build vehicles at scale or profitably. And we don't know how quickly the company will be able to expand into new plants or new vehicles.
But there's a bullish side of the story, too. Rivian is building a business model that's disrupting all the right places of the auto business, has platforms to build on, and is building a formidable brand. Don't discount the importance of these factors in building a great business long term because it's a lot of the same playbook Tesla has used for a decade. But instead of paving the road itself, the company has learned from Tesla's wins and mistakes.