For Rivian, Now Comes The Hard Part

The electric truck startup confirmed it will fall short of its 2021 production targets.

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Image: Rivian

Rivian can’t build the dang trucks fast enough, Volkswagen won’t be able to build enough of anything next year and Ford’s big, tough SUV leaves room for improvement in safety. All that and more in this happy Friday edition of The Morning Shift for December 17, 2021.

1st Gear: Good News, Bad News

Rivian began deliveries of its first production vehicle, the R1T electric pickup, in October. R1S SUVs started making their way to customers this month. Those are surely milestones for any young carmaker, but of course now comes the really hard part — keeping up. Rivian announced Thursday that it will fall short of its 2021 production target of 1,200 cars, Bloomberg reports.

The EV startup will be “a few hundred vehicles short” of its goal to produce 1,200 units by the end of the year, according to a statement Thursday. Rivian also revealed a net loss of $1.23 billion in the third quarter, or an adjusted net loss of $776 million.

Boosting output of its marquee pickup while also manufacturing an SUV has been more difficult than expected, Chief Executive Officer R.J. Scaringe said on a conference call with analysts. There are no long-term, systemic issues in its supply chain, he added.

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Rivian shares dropped 10 percent following the news. That seems like a lot, but Bloomberg reports the stock was still trading 40 percent up from its IPO and that Rivian’s market value of nearly $100 billion well exceeds Ford and General Motors. So they’re probably going to be just fine.

The trouble is three-fold. First, there are of course the supply chain constraints everyone’s dealing with. On top of that, Rivian has but one factory in Normal, Illinois. It’s eyeing a $5 billion site in Georgia, but until it gets a second facility up and running, any new vehicle orders are projected to be delivered in 2023 at the earliest.

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And then there’s the Amazon issue:

Rivian has been prioritizing resources and manpower for the Amazon Van project over its own consumer models, Bloomberg reported in October. Rivian said Thursday deliveries of its first revenue-producing electric delivery vans for Amazon will start this month.

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As usual, Amazon ruins everything.

2nd Gear: It’s Not Getting Better, VW Says

Volkswagen built fewer cars in 2021 than in 2020 because you know why. It figures to maintain that trend in 2022, Reuters reports:

The carmaker, which reduced its forecast for 2021 vehicle deliveries last week to 9 million from 9.3 million, is preparing for the possibility that the current chips shortage could last until at least early 2023, the report said.

In the worst-case scenario, deliveries could fall to 8 million cars next year - but even if things go relatively well, deliveries could be slightly below this year’s, it said.

Volkswagen declined to comment on the report, stating it expected a slight easing of the supply situation in 2022 but that the first half of the year would remain very volatile.

Carmakers including BMW and Daimler have said they expect chip problems to continue well into 2022, with BMW confirming to Reuters on Thursday it did not expect the crisis to ease until the second half of next year.

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Let’s be real: The continuation of the chip shortage into “at least early 2023” is more than just a possibility. I remember when this was supposed to end early next year. The only forward-looking statements that have come true thus far have been the worst-case scenarios, which reminds us that absolutely everyone is flying blind in this crisis — from analysts to executives.

3rd Gear: Bronco Head Restraint System Just ‘Acceptable’

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts safety tests with a more modern criteria than the government, recently ran the Ford Bronco through its gauntlet. While the SUV earned “good” marks in five of its six crashworthiness tests, Automotive News reports, it notched only “acceptable” in the head restraint test and merely “marginal” for headlight performance. “Their low beams did not illuminate the road to a far enough distance on curves,” according to the IIHS.

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A poor performance in the head restraint test means that occupants might be more susceptible to whiplash in the event of a collision. Here’s how Ford responded to the news:

“Safety is a top priority and we’re proud that Bronco earned top ratings in five IIHS crash tests, in addition to earning a superior rating for front crash prevention with standard automatic emergency braking,” a Ford spokesman said in an emailed statement. “All of Bronco’s safety features meet or exceed federal safety standards.”

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Being that corporations are technically people and such, from now on I’m going to respond to all pointed questions about bad or wrong things I do by not acknowledging them and instead repeating my successes. Come at me with the fact I forgot your birthday this year, I dare you; I’ll just say I’m really proud of myself for treating you to that great brunch in 2017.

4th Gear: More On That Paris Tesla Crash

A taxi company in Paris suspended its entire fleet of Tesla Model 3s after one of its drivers struck and killed a cyclist and injured 20 other people while off duty earlier this week. The driver reportedly attempted to brake, but instead the car accelerated. A French government spokesperson told the media that Tesla said there was no technical issue with the vehicle.

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The individual’s reportedly been banned from driving for the moment. His lawyer provided a statement late Wednesday, doubling down on the claim that the car’s brakes failed to activate. From Reuters:

“He (the taxi driver) has explained to the police officers that the car had accelerated on its own and that he did not succeed in activating the brakes, the brakes did not work despite his best efforts,” lawyer Sarah Saldmann told Reuters late on Wednesday.

She said the wreckage of the car was being investigated by police, who had found the USB key which records the car’s activity in the glove compartment.

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It’s still unclear if Autopilot was functional at the time of the accident, which it really shouldn’t be. It’s key information that’d be critical to this crash. Considering that the driver’s lawyer neglected to mention it, Occam’s razor here has me thinking this could be a classic “wrong pedal” scenario. Time will tell.

5th Gear: Dude Leaves Autonomous Driving Company

Does any high-ranking personnel at an autonomous car company remain there for more than, say, two years max? The turnover in this business is dizzying. On Thursday GM announced Dan Ammann, CEO of Cruise, is leaving the team. From Automotive News:

The self-driving vehicle company that is majority-owned by GM will be run by Kyle Vogt, co-founder, president and chief technical officer, for now.

GM did not say why Ammann, CEO of the San Francisco startup since 2019, was leaving or whether he took a position elsewhere.

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It’s also not the only top mind GM’s lost this week:

Ammann’s departure is the second high-profile loss for GM in a matter of days. On Wednesday, the automaker confirmed that Pamela Fletcher, GM’s vice president of global innovation, is leaving the company to become chief sustainability officer for Delta Airlines.

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This would appear to be a problem. The autonomous cars don’t make themselves, people! (Yet.)

Reverse: One Of The Many Cases John DeLorean “Won”

From the December 18, 1986 edition of the Los Angeles Times, one day following the news:

A federal jury found former auto maker John Z. DeLorean not guilty Wednesday of charges that he swindled $8.5 million from backers who bankrolled his failed sports car company in Northern Ireland.

“Praise God,” the dapper, 61-year-old DeLorean muttered as his eyes filled with tears at the end of his ten-week trial. The verdict marked the second time in two years that DeLorean, once a shining star in the board rooms of General Motors, had survived a serious scrape with the law.

In 1984, another federal jury in Los Angeles acquitted him of drug trafficking charges after a sensational seven-month trial in which prosecutors contended DeLorean had tried to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the country to raise cash to save his floundering car firm.

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Neutral: When Will Formula 1 Get Bigger Than NASCAR In The U.S.?

In terms of sheer television ratings it’s still not close between the two series, even with F1's monumental growth on this side of the pond. F1 notched its most-watched season in the U.S. ever this year, averaging 934,000 viewers on ESPN and ABC per race. The previous high was 748,000 in 1995. Of course, that doesn’t account for those watching along via F1 TV.

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NASCAR averaged about 2.9 million viewers per race between FOX and NBC broadcasts, which is a lot better than F1 but also made for the least-watched season on record.

I was chatting with a buddy last night, another longtime F1 fan, about how strange it’s been to overhear casual conversations about things as particular as qualifying results in public over the past year. The sport’s reach seems to be multiplying exponentially — and new fans are watching races, not just Drive To Survive. Even if the numbers are still modest in comparison to NASCAR, the sense of excitement I gather from new F1 fans — anecdotally of course — is well beyond anything I’m seeing with what’s historically been the most popular form of motorsport in the U.S. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before we’re all asking ourselves which is bigger.