While investors await Rivian’s hotly anticipated IPO, these wannabe Tesla-killers rev their engines

November 9, 2021, 1:33 PM UTC

Electric vehicle startup Rivian is expected to debut this week on the stock market at an eye-popping price that could value the company at up to $65 billion.

Demand to subscribe to its share-sale was so robust that on Friday the EV maker hiked the price range, bringing the market cap well within range of Stellantis, the parent company that owns both the Jeep and Ram brands, and put it within striking distance of BMW Group.

Rivian could raise up to $11.5 billion from its capital hike, highlighting the greater proceeds that can be gained by opting for a traditional initial public offering. Other rivals like Lucid and Polestar chose the easier yet less lucrative route of going public via a reverse merger through a blank-check SPAC firm.

Rivian’s IPO is the latest serious move by an EV maker to tackle the dominance of Tesla, but it is not the only one. Besides Rivian, a whole crop of startups are preparing to go toe-to-toe with Elon Musk’s company. 

Here’s the lineup of what investors can expect. 

Rivian R1T
Rivian R1T
Courtesy of Rivian


Founded in 2009 by Robert “RJ” Scaringe, Rivian is the most promising upstart in the area of pickup trucks, one of the largest and most profitable segments in the North American light vehicle market. 

Its premium R1T adopts a traditional styling similar to that of its legacy brand EV competitor, the Ford F-150 Lightning, rather than the more avant-garde styling of the upcoming Tesla Cybertruck. 

The R1T packs Tesla-style 2170 cylindrical cells into its battery pack, and gets an Environmental Protection Agency–certified initial range of 314 miles—roughly equivalent to what the dual motor Cybertruck is expected to offer. Initial critical reception has been largely enthusiastic.

As of the end of October, the company has so far collected refundable deposits for 55,400 units of the R1T pickup as well as its R1S three-row SUV based off the same “R1” platform.

Along with its own fast-charging network, dubbed RAN, Rivian plans to also adopt Tesla’s distribution strategy of circumventing traditional dealers in favor of direct sales. Since more than half of U.S. states do not permit this, some customers may need to visit a licensed, out-of-state Rivian retailer. 

While headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Rivian will manufacture its vehicles at its new 600-acre site in Normal in central Illinois. The company hopes to build up to 150,000 vehicles annually by early 2024. 

That suggests that Rivian does not expect to scale up as quickly as Tesla’s Cybertruck factory in Austin, despite delivering the first R1T pickups a full year earlier.

Even still, the brand harbors ambitions to expand sales to select EV-friendly markets in Western Europe and the U.K. by 2023.

One key differentiator for Rivian is its plan to serve the light commercial vehicle market, offering three variations of its EDV-panel-van, capable of transporting anywhere between 500 to 840 cubic feet of cargo. Amazon has ordered 100,000 units for delivery by 2025, prompting Rivian to warn shareholders it will initially be dependent for business on the e-commerce giant, its largest shareholder with 18.9% of the equity.

The U.S. legacy carmaker Ford is another major backer of Rivian, expected to own 12.2% of the company following the IPO.

The Lucid Air
The Lucid Air
Courtesy of Lucid


This Newark, Calif.-based company first started out in 2007 as a battery supplier called Atieva before pivoting to electric vehicles with the hiring of CEO Peter Rawlinson, the former chief engineer behind the Tesla Model S. 

Last month its Casa Grande factory in Arizona delivered the first units of its Lucid Air Dream Edition to customers. This full-blown luxury sedan has managed to impress more traditional Mercedes and BMW drivers with its fit-and-finish on par with the best European vehicles have to offer. 

The Air Pure base version can already drive farther on one charge than the long-range Tesla Model S, while the upscale Air Grand Touring boasts the highest EPA range of any car on the market at 516 miles.  

Another key differentiator of the Lucid Air is its onboard electrical system. While most EVs employ a 400-volt architecture, Lucid uses over 900 volts, even more than found in Porsche’s upscale Taycan sports sedan. That means drivers can add 300 miles of range in just 20 minutes when hooked up to a direct current (DC) fast charger.

Lucid plans to follow up with the Gravity SUV, built off the same platform as the Air, in 2023. 

Unlike Rivian and Tesla, Lucid chose not to invest in building out its own supercharging infrastructure. Instead it has opted to partner with Electrify America, a DC fast charging network built at Volkswagen’s cost as part of its Dieselgate plea bargain. 

Lucid is backed primarily by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In a high-profile move, the oil-rich monarchy chose to forgo potentially taking Tesla private at a price of $420 in order to invest in Lucid instead, and may insist on Lucid’s building a production facility on its soil. 

The company reaped $4.4 billion from its SPAC listing, and after initial controversy over the valuation, the stock has nearly doubled since Tesla’s deal with Hertz.

The XPeng P7 sedan
The XPeng P7
Hector Retamal—AFP/Getty Images


The six-year-old, Guangzhou-based company derives its name from one of its three cofounders, chairman He Xiaopeng. The 43-year-old entrepreneur’s first company was acquired by Alibaba in 2014, and it is thanks to his connections that XPeng counts Jack Ma’s internet retail giant as one of its strategic shareholders.

At home near China’s bustling tech capital of Shenzhen, it is perhaps the Chinese domestic brand that has the most in common with Tesla. 

Like Tesla, it focuses on both the mid- and higher-end income segments of the market, and it, too, is building up its own network of 480 kW high-powered superchargers capable of restoring an EV to the customary 80% state of charge in just 12 minutes. 

XPeng seeks to differentiate itself primarily through its intelligent automated driving features, and it claims to have developed in-house the full end-to-end software that operates its Xpilot system, whose recent 3.5 iteration offers auto-steer on city streets just like Tesla’s FSD beta

In a major departure, however, XPeng will employ lidar for automated driving, a highly precise visual sensor Musk has refused to use. The P5 sedan, which just began shipping to Chinese customers last month, is its first to include this laser scanner. 

Another similarity with Elon Musk’s company is XPeng’s plan to leverage the navigational A.I. from its automated driving feature to power a robot. Instead of the humanoid Tesla Bot concept dubbed “Optimus”, XPeng aims to offer a quadruped that resembles the Spot robot from Boston Dynamics, since June a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor.  

Another differentatior at XPeng is its plan to develop a car for sale by 2024 that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) with a retail price of 1 million renminbi ($157,000). Despite Musk’s SpaceX company, Tesla itself has so far expressed no interest in vertical mobility.

Major current models include the the G3 crossover, in production since 2018, whose assembly is outsourced. Ever since May 2020, however, XPeng began operation of its own production facility in Zhaoqing, where the P7 sedan has been rolling off the line.

Cumulative deliveries of all XPeng models since its founding exceeded the 100,000 mark last month.

The NIO ES8 premium SUV
The Nio ES8 premium SUV
Odin Jaeger—Bloomberg/Getty Images


Founded in November 2014 by Bin “William” Li, Nio is positioned as a premium electric vehicle brand.

Li first impressed fans by building the fastest EV to lap the Nürburgring’s fearsome 13-mile Nordschleife circuit in October 2016, a record the EP9 hypercar held for nearly three years until Volkswagen’s ID R prototype race car beat it. 

Its major production models include the ES8 full-size SUV, the ES6 midsize SUV, and the EC6 crossover coupe. Historic deliveries of the three models hit roughly 145,700 through October, making it the largest of the Tesla competitors to date.

Three new model launches are scheduled for next year, including the upscale ET7 sedan.

The latter could see a 150 kWh battery pack, quite possibly the largest ever installed in a series production passenger car. The company has said it could hit a top range of 1,000 kilometers under the NEDC cycle still used in China but largely discredited as highly unrealistic elsewhere.  

It, too, hopes to utilize automated technology and has a friendly-looking chatbot called Nomi mounted on the dashboard. 

Notably Nio is one of the few brands not to own its factory. Cars are built in cooperation with state-owned enterprise JAC on a contract basis in Hefei, Anhui province.

Nio is the only major player to bet on the strategy of building battery swapping stations. This idea has been dormant ever since the first company to adopt this approach, Israeli EV infrastructure startup Better Place, failed spectacularly.

The brand has recently set up actual brick-and-mortar stores in Norway in perhaps the most ambitious entry of a Chinese carmaker into Europe to date. It is expected to expand into Germany by the end of next year, aiming to win over the country’s famously discriminating premium car buyers.  

Down the road Nio aims to capture more of the global EV market by rolling out a volume brand that will compete with the Volkswagens and Toyotas of the world. According to Li, however, a competitor model to China’s best-known EV, the Hongguang Mini budget car, is not in the cards. 

Nio counts owner Chinese internet giant Tencent as a major backer.

The Polestar 2
The Polestar 2
Courtesy of Polestar


Like Lucid, Polestar is listing via a SPAC merger announced in September. It offers investors something entirely unique: an EV-only, pure-play premium brand spun off from a legacy carmaker.

Originally its name designated a line of performance cars based on Volvo models—a little-known fact given that the Swedish brand is better known for safety than sportiness. 

In 2017, Polestar was then reborn as an electrified-only carmaker jointly owned by Volvo and Volvo parent Zhejiang Geely, a privately-owned Chinese carmaker founded by Li Shufu. 

Leading the brand is CEO Thomas Ingenlath, a German national and former chief designer at Volvo. 

While the Polestar 1 was an extremely expensive plug-in hybrid that debuted to less than enthusiastic critical reception, the fully electric Polestar 2 that competes with the Tesla Model S has been gaining fans. 

In a rare strategic decision, the car relies entirely on Google’s Android OS to run its user interface, a move other carmakers scrupulously avoided in order to ensure control over the data generated in the car.

All Polestar 2 vehicles are currently manufactured in Luqiao and imported from China, but the Polestar 3, due next year, will also run off the assembly line in Volvo’s new factory near Charleston, S.C. 

The brand’s first entry into the booming SUV segment, the Polestar 3 is one of trio of new models due in the next three years. 

The carmaker, which counts Leonardo DiCaprio as an early investor, delivered about 10,000 vehicles last year. By 2025 it expects to sell roughly 290,000 vehicles annually in part with the $1 billion in funding it is set to receive from its SPAC deal.

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