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Rivian shares surge 29% after IPO, valuing electric-car maker higher than GM and Ford

November 10, 2021, 7:52 PM UTC

Shares in electric-vehicle startup Rivian soared as much as 40% on their market debut Wednesday following an IPO, valuing the loss-making company that has produced only a few hundred cars at more than $100 billion, higher than century-old Ford or General Motors.

The surge in the share price came after the California-based maker of rugged pickup trucks and SUVs had pulled off the biggest initial share sale by a U.S. company since Facebook in 2012, surfing a wave of investor excitement over a new electric era in the auto industry that has driven Tesla to a trillion-dollar market cap.

Rivian priced its shares at $78 apiece, far higher than the initially envisaged range of $57 to $62, and sold 153 million shares, more than originally planned, to raise $11.9 billion.

When trading began on Nasdaq Wednesday, the shares (listed under the symbol RIVN) opened at $106.75, up 37%, and powered ahead to around $119 before falling back to close at around $100.73, still a gain of 29% from the offer price.

At the opening price, Rivian had a market value of more than $100 billion on a fully diluted basis, taking account of stock options. That is higher than GM’s $87 billion and the $80 billion market cap of Ford, which previously invested $820 million in Rivian. It makes Rivian the second most valuable U.S. automaker after Tesla.

Rivian’s listing is the world’s largest IPO so far this year, the third-largest U.S. company IPO of all time, and largest since Facebook raised $16 billion in 2012, according to data provider Refinitiv.

The IPO market is sizzling, with 1,818 flotations globally so far in 2021 raising a record $360 billion, flying past the previous full-year record of $316 billion set in 2007, Refinitiv said. Nasdaq is the most popular venue for IPOs, with 270 new listings so far this year raising a record $89 billion.

Rivian, in which Amazon holds a 20% stake, has cultivated an image as an environmentally friendly adventure company, whose vehicles are equally at home tackling steep hills in the wilderness or speeding along the freeway.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company, which lost nearly $1 billion in the first half of this year, is targeting the most lucrative U.S. market sectors with a pickup truck (the R1T) and a sports utility vehicle (the R1S), both sharing the same platform. It also has an order from Amazon for 100,000 electric delivery vans.

Rivian delivered its first R1Ts in September and by the end of October, the company had delivered just 156 of the pickups, mostly to Rivian employees. It plans to start customer deliveries of the R1S in December.

Rivian’s IPO was seemingly unaffected by the 12% drop in Tesla’s shares Tuesday after Tesla CEO Elon Musk polled his Twitter followers on whether to sell 10% of his Tesla stake.

Some analysts voiced caution over Rivian’s high valuation given the hurdles it still has to overcome to become a volume producer.

Rivian’s valuation “is clear testament to investors’ enthusiasm for electric vehicles and the narratives that they offer in terms of both future growth and environmental benefits,” said Russ Mould, investment director at U.K.-based financial services firm A.J. Bell.

But he added, “Many investors will be wary of that $77 billion valuation, given there are currently no revenues, profits, or cash flow to support it. If anything unexpected goes wrong there is little downside protection, while a lot of future growth is already baked into that market capitalization.”

U.S. investment research firm New Constructs went further in a note last week, saying that even at the $52 billion valuation then anticipated, the price was too high given Rivian’s lack of manufacturing experience and the intense competition in the EV market. It said it believed the stock was worth $13 billion at best.

Sales of electric vehicles are surging in China and Europe but growing more slowly in the U.S., as governments announce targets for phasing out gas- and diesel-fueled cars to meet climate-change targets and consumers become more environmentally conscious.

But competition in the EV sector is also mounting fast as industry titans, including Ford, GM, BMW, and Volkswagen put their huge financial muscle into catching up with Tesla.

Rivian is also up against EV newcomers in the shape of companies like California’s Lucid or China’s Nio.

Rivian’s vehicles will be competing head-on with GM’s new Hummer EV, Tesla’s planned Cybertruck, and Ford’s F-150 Lightning.

Rivian was hit by bad publicity in the run-up to its IPO when the Wall Street Journal reported that a former sales vice president had sued the startup, alleging that she was fired after telling a human resources executive that she had been subjected to gender discrimination.

In addition to her allegations about a “toxic bro culture” at the company, Laura Schwab also said in the complaint that she had raised concerns about the company underpricing its vehicles, manufacturing quality issues, and unrealistic delivery targets, the report said.

A Rivian spokeswoman declined comment to the Journal on the allegations.

Rivian’s R1T pickup starts at $67,500 and has an estimated range of 314 miles between charges. An R1T with a range of more than 400 miles will be available in January, the company says. The R1S starts at $70,000 and has a range of 316 miles. Both are capable of accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds.

The company had about 55,400 preorders for R1T and R1S models in the United States and Canada at the end of October, according to its IPO documents.

Rivian builds its vehicles at a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Ill. It expects to ramp up production there to 150,000 vehicles a year—the factory’s current maximum capacity—by late 2023 and has plans to increase the plant’s capacity to 200,000 vehicles.

Amazon has previously invested $1.345 billion in Rivian, the IPO prospectus showed. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos used a Rivian pickup truck to drive William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, and the rest of the crew to the launch pad for their Blue Origin rocket flight last month. Rivian says it will take until 2025 to fulfill its 100,000 delivery van order from Amazon.

Rivian is following in Tesla’s footsteps by selling vehicles directly to customers, eliminating the need for a dealership network, and by building its own fast-charging network.

The company was founded in 2009 by Robert J. Scaringe, the CEO, who describes in the IPO prospectus his lifelong obsession with cars. “I grew up restoring them in my neighbor’s garage. I had hoods under my bed, windshields in my closet, and engine parts on my desk.”

His original plan was to build an efficient sports car, but by 2012 the fledgling company had switched focus to trucks and SUVs.

Update (11/10/21) 8:23 p.m: This article and its headline were updated to include the closing stock price.

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