What is Rivian? The Amazon-backed EV startup turned Tesla challenger

  • EV startup Rivian could go public this fall with a valuation of $50 billion, Bloomberg reported.
  • The firm has been developing EVs since 2009 and may have what it takes to be the next Tesla. 
  • It has developed a pickup, an SUV, and a delivery van, and counts Amazon as a partner and a backer. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Electric-vehicle startup Rivian may go public as soon as September at a $50 billion valuation that could make it more valuable than Ford, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. 

And while that valuation is certainly high for any newly listed company — it’s 35 times what Tesla was worth at its 2010 IPO — Rivian has plenty going for it that other aspiring Tesla rivals don’t. 

With billions in backing from high-profile investors, a manufacturing plant already up and running, commercial and consumer EVs on the way, and future models in the works, Rivian has emerged as one of the most promising challengers to Tesla that’s not a legacy car brand. 

Here’s what you need to know about the company:

Rivian’s backstory

Rivian only went public with its business in 2018, but it’s been around in one iteration or another for quite a while. 

The Michigan-based startup was founded in 2009 by then-26-year-old RJ Scaringe, an MIT mechanical-engineering grad who remains the company’s CEO. Back then, the Tesla Roadster — Tesla’s first offering — was the sole cool EV on the market, and Scaringe sought to build a battery-powered sports car of his own. 

RJ Scaringe

Rivian CEO and founder RJ Scaringe.

Carlos Delgado/Associated Press

Two-and-a-half years deep into the car’s development, Rivian was struggling to raise money and Scaringe decided to pivot. He told Insider in 2018 that he scrapped the project after he realized it didn’t stand out enough from the competition. 

“In those early years, I was failing to answer the most fundamental of questions, which is why we exist,” Scaringe told Insider.

That’s when Rivian got to work developing and fine-tuning the luxury SUV and pickup truck it would eventually show the public in fall 2018. 

Read more: Meet Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe, who’s been called the next Jeff Bezos as he electrifies Amazon’s delivery vans

Two consumer vehicles due out in 2021 that fill Tesla’s gaps

Rivian pegs itself as a high-end EV maker for an adventurous crowd — sort of like what Land Rover is for gas-powered vehicles. Although Tesla has dominated the consumer EV space for years, that’s a market it hasn’t tapped. 

The company has two consumer vehicles set to hit the streets this summer: the R1S SUV and the R1T pickup truck. Both vehicles have all-wheel drive and promise to be capable off road.

Rivian R1T R1S

Rivian will start delivering its first pickups and SUVs this summer.


The R1T starts at $67,500 and promises a range of up to 400 miles, up to 750 horsepower, and an 11,000-lb towing capacity. Eventually, there will also be a cheaper, 250-mile-range truck. 

The R1S starts at $70,000, gets a range of around 300 miles at launch, and is available in a five-seat or seven-seat configuration. Both models can be equipped with outdoorsy upgrades like a camping kitchen that slides out from a “gear tunnel” behind the rear seats.

All Launch Edition models — the only vehicles Rivian will ship to customers in 2021 — are already spoken for. Rivian is building them at its plant in Normal, Illinois, a former Mitsubishi factory it bought in 2017. 

A plan to electrify Amazon’s logistics empire

In 2019, Amazon contracted Rivian to build it a fleet of 100,000 battery-powered delivery vans by 2030 — a massive order for a firm that hadn’t yet delivered a single vehicle. The first vans began making deliveries this month, and Amazon said tens of thousands will join them in the next few years. 

That makes Rivian a relatively early mover in the world of commercial EVs. And a partnership with the shipping giant — which is its own largest package handler — gives it a leg up over the competition. 

Rivian Amazon delivery van

Rivian’s Amazon delivery vans hit streets this month.


Legacy automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz — along with EV startups like Canoo and Bollinger — have all confirmed they’re working on electric delivery vehicles, but Rivian beat all of them to the punch.

Read more: Early Rivian investors explain the 3 factors that could make the Amazon-backed startup the next Tesla

Tesla has promised to roll out its Semi for years and has mentioned plans for a van in passing but hasn’t entered the commercial arena quite yet.  

High-profile backers 

What sets Rivian apart from the slew of EV startups that have cropped up in recent years is its impressive list of investors. 

Rivian has managed to raise more than $8 billion in recent years from firms including Amazon, BlackRock, T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, Cox Automotive, and Ford. In the last year alone, it has raked in more than $5 billion. 

Rivian R1S.

Rivian counts Ford, Amazon, Cox Automotive, and BlackRock among its investors.

Dylan Johnston/Rivian

As several other early-stage EV startups have raised funds by going public through reverse mergers — a phenomenon that some experts have called a bubble — Rivian has avoided going that route. 

Future plans

Rivian has big plans for the future, aside from its potential IPO. 

Scaringe told Reuters last year that following the rollout of the R1S and R1T,  Rivian plans to produce smaller models for the Chinese and European markets. And Bloomberg reported Thursday that the automaker is scouting locations in Europe for a new plant that would build Amazon delivery vans and consumer vehicles. 

Rivian is also working on a network of fast-charging stations with locations not only on the side of highways, but also near off-roading spots, hiking trails, and parks, Scaringe told TechCrunch.