As investors flock to Rivian, GM says it ‘won’t cede leadership position to anyone’

November 10, 2021, 9:30 PM UTC

It only took until 1 p.m. ET the day Rivian went public before the EV startup was valued more by investors than General Motors has ever been in its history.

On Wednesday, while Rivian’s initial trades were still being processed, GM CEO Mary Barra put on her best face and defended the company’s seemingly dwindling relevance in a nation bewitched by the next wannabe Tesla

“What it highlights to me is the huge opportunity,” Barra told the New York Times DealBook Summit“General Motors is so undervalued.” 

Ever since the pandemic hit, legacy carmakers have watched more or less helplessly as startups like Rivian, Nio, XPeng, and Lucid zoom past them. These risky stocks have soared thanks to a newfound craze by retail shareholders hoping to strike it rich by investing early in the next Tesla

Rivian celebrated on Wednesday the world’s biggest IPO of the year, raking in nearly $12 billion in proceeds that will go to fund future growth.

At one point it even traded 50% above its IPO price of $78 before surrendering gains to drop to $100, giving it a market cap of $98 billion. That’s not just more than the $86 billion that General Motors currently trades at, but more than the century-old American automaker has ever been worth.

That’s because, like Tesla, investors are valuing these upstarts not by traditional auto industry multiples, but those applied to tech companies with high growth potential and lofty software-derived profit margins. 

The GM CEO argued her company, through its subsidiary Cruise, was at the forefront of autonomous technology. Considered the holy grail of the auto industry, huge rewards wait in store for whichever company develops a safe, affordable robo-taxi. 

“Cruise is literally one permit away from being able to actually charge for rides in San Francisco,” she said, adding it will be the only autonomous startup operating in such a dense urban environment.

No matter what Barra said, however, the interview kept coming back to Tesla, the $1 trillion elephant in the room, until she finally bristled and told the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin that she was there to talk about General Motors, not Elon Musk’s company. 

Barra promised shareholders 2022 would be “a very strong year for us” with around 10% margins in its core North American market as it launched the Cadillac Lyriq on the new dedicated electric vehicle platform called Ultium.  

Even the chip crisis that has hobbled legacy car manufacturers looks set to abate by the second half of next year, according to the CEO, suggesting the company could grow faster in the EV market than these new upstarts.

“General Motors has brands that they trust. We have the highest loyalty rating. We have manufacturing plants that are ready to go,” she said. “When I look at our ability to scale to serve customers, I think we’re incredibly well positioned and we’re not going to cede our leadership position to anyone.”

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