Ford to pump $500m into electric vehicle startup Rivian

Blue Oval joins Amazon in backing the potential rival to Silicon Valley's Tesla

24 April 2019 - 19:29 By Reuters
Rivian CEO and founder RJ Scaringe with Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford.
Rivian CEO and founder RJ Scaringe with Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford.
Image: Ford

Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday it will invest $500m (roughly R7.2bn) in US electric vehicle startup Rivian Automotive LLC, joining in backing the potential rival to Silicon Valley's Tesla.

Ford said it will use Rivian's "skateboard" - a chassis that bundles electric motor, batteries and controls - to build a new vehicle for North America. It did not provide details on what type of vehicle, and where or when it would be built.

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Michigan-based Rivian, founded in 2009, has raised more than $1.5bn (roughly R21.6bn) from investors. A company spokesman declined to provide a valuation for the company, but investor website estimates Rivian's value to be between $5bn (R72bn) and $7bn (R100bn).

In comparison, Tesla's market value is around $45bn (R648bn), while Ford's market cap is just under $38bn (R547bn). In mid-day trade, Ford shares were flat at $9.50 (R136,88), while Tesla's were down a fraction at $263.07 (R3,790).

On Wednesday, Ford chief executive Jim Hackett said the deal with Rivian does not affect Ford's discussions with Volkswagen AG about sharing the German automaker’s electric vehicle architecture.

“It does not interfere" with Volkswagen, Hackett said during a conference call on Wednesday. “This is a specific platform that helps us in areas we weren’t considering with others.”

Rivian's first products - a large pickup truck and a utility vehicle - are slated to go into production in late 2020 and early 2021, CEO RJ Scaringe said. Those two electric vehicles, along with the "skateboard" that Ford will use, will be built at Rivian's plant, a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois.

Scaringe said Rivian and Ford "put this deal together over the last six months".

The announcement of the Ford deal followed reports that General Motors (GM) and Rivian had broken off discussions. Reuters reported in February that GM was in talks to invest in Rivian.

On Wednesday, a GM spokesman said the automaker "does not comment on discussions with other parties as a matter of policy".

In February, Amazon said it would lead a $700m (over R10bn) investment in Rivian.

Amazon also said this week that it will partner with Ford in providing cloud-based transportation services.

Ford's Joe Hinrichs said the company is already "in the middle" of developing a battery-electric version of its best-selling F-series pickup. "We didn't want to slow that down," he said.

Hinrichs will join the Rivian board.

Ford said its investment in Rivian is separate from the US automaker's previously announced $11bn (R158bn) investment in EVs, which includes 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its model lineup by 2022.

In March, VW and Ford signed a deal to develop mid-size pickup trucks and are continuing discussions about extending the alliance to include electric and autonomous vehicles and mobility services.