The stock market loves Ford’s big electric vehicle plans. Rivian not so much

March 2, 2022, 11:05 PM UTC

For the past two years, investors considered Ford to be past its prime as it struggled to create a thriving electric car business. Upstart electric vehicle makers soared, even those like Rivian with little track record of actually producing the cars it had promised.

Now the roles are reversed: Ford has become the favorite while upstart Rivian has been recast as the villain. 

On Wednesday, investors cheered after Ford CEO Jim Farley made the reorganization official, creating two separate business lines, each reporting its own profit and loss. By running the new “Ford Model e” separately from the legacy “Ford Blue” unit, management hopes to eliminate needless duplication while still benefiting from economies of scale.

“The reality is our legacy organization has been holding us back. We had to change,” Farley told reporters during a presentation on Wednesday, refuting speculation this was a precursor to spinning out the EV business entirely and taking it public. 

Since the pandemic elicited an EV stock boom powered by retail investors, incumbent carmakers have watched their valuations tumble, causing analysts to surmise that the broader market no longer expected the companies to survive the transition towards zero-emission vehicles.

On Wednesday, however, Ford shares jumped over 8% on investor hopes about the reorganization Farley had promised more generally in early February when he claimed to possess a “bias for action, whatever-it-takes mindset” to succeed.

As a result of the split, Ford now anticipates producing 2 million electric vehicles in 2026, versus 600,000 EVs next year, while shaving $3 billion in costs. The savings will stem largely from streamlining the company’s combustion engine car business, which will be grouped around high-profile models like the Mustang coupe, Bronco SUV, and F-150 pickup truck.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, far from Ford’s suburban Detroit headquarters, Rivian sparked a storm after it told customers still waiting on vehicles they have put deposits on that it would significantly jack up the price of those cars to account for recent high inflation. 

This large pool of potential owners willing to take a chance on a car they had never seen, let alone driven, was a key selling point for investors during Rivian’s record-shattering IPO last year. Typically, reservation holders would also expect to be shielded from any price hikes, unlike new future owners — especially when Rivian has barely even begun building all the vehicles it promised. Last year, the company delivered just 920 to owners, according to a company SEC filing.

After customers were informed late on Tuesday that the cost of Rivian’s award-winning R1T electric truck would rise 17% and for the R1S crossover by as much as a fifth, many took to social media to express their anger.

“I’ve seen more ‘I canceled my reservation’ posts than I’ve ever seen before. Time to maybe rethink charging customers up to 20% more when they ordered years ago and gave you $1000,” wrote Jace Craft-Miller.

Following the news that the company had angered many fans, the stock tumbled nearly 14% during Wednesday’s session to $53.56, far below its IPO price of $78.

In November, Rivian’s shares had hit a peak just shy of $180 while its market cap exceeded Ford’s by some 50%, despite having shipped only a few dozen vehicles ever. Since then, however, it’s shares have plunged nearly 70%. 

In response to Fortune’s questions, Rivian explained its price hike by saying it had to address the problem of rising raw material costs stemming from an unprecedented supply chain shortage that includes semiconductor chips.

“This rise in cost and complexity due to these challenging circumstances necessitate an increase to the prices of the R1T and R1S models we offer today — prices which were originally set in 2018,” Jiten Behl, Rivian’s chief growth officer, said in the statement.  

To offer a more affordable version to customers, Rivian said it would bring a less powerful all-wheel-drive version with two motors instead of four, and a smaller battery pack for both its pickup truck and its SUV models.

The role-swap among investors was all that more ironic given Ford had paid $500 million to buy a stake in Rivian in 2019. With Ford no longer prioritizing its internal combustion engine (ICE) business, the investment has become less important over time to the legacy car maker.

In fact, Rivian’s stock began its epic collapse from its mid-November all-time highs after Ford’s Farley revealed to industry publication Automotive News that he had been scrapped plans to jointly developed an electric vehicle with Rivian. It’s now clear why, as Ford is going full-steam towards EVs.

“Today our corporate structure is holding us back, it does not allow us to focus,” Farley emphasized once more. While Ford Blue would concentrate on wringing cash and profits from its ICE operations, Ford Model e would focus primarily on driving innovation and recruiting the best tech talent around: “We cannot ask the team to do both at the same time,” he said.

With Wednesday’s share price divergence, Ford is earning more points from investors on its EV strategy than Rivian. Farley’s company is currently the sixth largest carmaker by market cap at $73 billion, while Rivian’s $48 billion no longer secures it even a place amongst the top 10—let alone the former spot it held in the top five.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.