Rivian, the electric truck maker that’s rocketed overnight from relative obscurity to $100 billion Wall Street darling, owes much of its breakout success to one very powerful fanboy: Jeff Bezos.
And, less directly, to that fanboy’s archnemesis Elon Musk.
When the Amazon founder this summer became the first American entrepreneur to hurl himself to the edge of space on his own private company’s rocket, Rivian trucks shuttled Bezos and his fellow astronauts to and from the West Texas launch site.
The Rivian shuttles during the widely publicized event were, of course, strategic product placement by Bezos for his handpicked contender to take on Tesla. At the time, Rivian was still a private company with no actual products on the market. But Amazon had made a big bet on Rivian in 2019, taking a 20% stake in the company. The famously (or notoriously) calculating Bezos was bringing two of his pet projects — Blue Origin and Rivian — onto the global stage at the same time.
The cherry on top: It was also a big middle finger to Musk.
Bezos and Musk spent much of the past year yo-yoing between the titles of Richest and Second Richest person in the world. Their feud goes back years, centered on their competing space travel ambitions. Bezos’ Blue Origin has been fighting NASA over the agency’s decision to contract with Musk’s SpaceX to build a lunar lander intended to take humans back to the moon.
So far, all of Blue Origin’s efforts to fight NASA’s decision have fallen flat.
But Rivian’s blockbuster IPO — the strongest debut by a US company since Facebook listed its shares in 2012 — gives Bezos something of a win in the ongoing proxy battle he’s fighting with Musk.
Two years ago, Amazon led an investment of $700 million in Rivian and announced it was ordering 100,000 of its electric vans. At the time, the EV field was crowded with upstart brands such as Nikola, Lordstown and Fisker, all of which were vying to position themselves as the next big thing. Since then, Rivian has emerged as the heavyweight (helped as much by investments from Amazon and Ford as by serious regulatory investigations into would-be rivals Nikola and Lordstown).
Rivian can also thank Musk for fomenting the EV hype that investors have been getting drunk on for the past few years. Many analysts say Tesla, with a market cap of around $1 trillion, is wildly overvalued, but it keeps on climbing. FOMO is a powerful force on Wall Street, and those who missed out on Tesla a decade ago may be trying to make up for it by buying Rivian, a 12-year-old startup that hasn’t yet delivered any products to customers and somehow is worth more than Ford (F) and GM (GM).
Whether Rivian can live up to the hype is anyone’s guess. For an investor, it’s a comfort to know that Rivian has the backing of someone with pockets as deep and grudges as bitter as Bezos’.
Investing is always risky. But one thing we can count on is that uber-rich men will literally buy entire companies to spite their enemies rather than go to therapy.