Transportation & Logistics

Record-Setting Rivian IPO Could Spark More VC Investment Into Red-Hot EV Sector

Electric-truck maker Rivian filed paperwork to go public earlier this month, and is expected to be the largest IPO of the year. That’s especially significant given that Rivian is basically a pre-revenue company and 2021 is already the largest year ever for IPOs in terms of proceeds.

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Rivian’s IPO is expected to round out a slew of IPO and SPAC deals from electric vehicle companies over the past year or so. That surge in prominent public-market debuts from EV companies could mean more demand—and funding—for startups that provide support and infrastructure for electric vehicles, industry watchers say. 

Already, venture-backed companies in the EV space have raised nearly $14.5 billion in funding globally so far this year, per Crunchbase data, blowing past the nearly $9.6 billion raised by VC-backed EV companies in all of last year. Those in the industry say that’s a trend that’s only expected to continue as high-profile companies like Rivian go public.

EV

The rise of companies like Rivian and Lucid Motors, which went public in July, is in turn fueling greater demand for technologies to support the new electric future, according to Tosh Dutt, CEO of ChargeNet, a startup that makes a software platform that integrates EV chargers, solar power and energy storage with a payment system. 

Startups that make everything from smart battery technology to EV chargers have raised venture funding in recent years, Crunchbase data shows.

John Tough, managing partner of Energize Ventures, doesn’t think there will be as many EV manufacturers headed to the market going forward, because of the sheer amount of capital involved to get a company to that point. It takes a lot of money to get an EV company to the point it can go public, and Silicon Valley tends to prefer to invest in capital-light businesses (like software). One of Energize Ventures’ portfolio companies, Volta Charging, went public in a $2 billion SPAC deal earlier this year. 

But, there’s plenty of opportunity to invest in the technologies needed to support EVs.

“I do think you’ll see a lot of private market capital for complementary services,” Tough said, adding that there’s more capital going toward EV-adjacent companies rather than new EV manufacturers. 

That means more investment in companies involved with charging infrastructure, batteries, battery recycling and all the software associated with EVs. Tough expects more tech solutions to enhance the experience of owning and driving an electric vehicle.

“The automotive sector is going to be pumping out a huge amount of new products that are going to support electrified transportation,” Dutt said. “And the challenge is that companies like ours in the software space that support infrastructure and infrastructure companies, are going to be overwhelmed by the amount of demand we’re going to have to support.”

Currently, only 4 percent of the EV chargers needed to support the estimated 64 million electric vehicles that will be on the roads in 2040 exists, according to a 2020 research note by Morgan Stanley

That means there will be a need for capital to meet those infrastructure and support demands so startups in the EV charging and infrastructure space can scale fast. That could mean more funding to companies in the electric vehicle and EV infrastructure space, and continued consolidation as legacy automakers adapt. 

“It’s going to really fall on companies like ours and the other infrastructure companies like EVGo and ChargePoint to meet that gap,” Dutt said.

There’s been a lot of consolidation in the EV space as well, as larger transportation players aim to acquire technologies to help them with the transition to electric. Dutt predicts that’s likely to continue as well.

EV companies flood the market

Tesla, which has seen its stock price surge nearly 2,000 percent over the past five years, has paved the way for more EV companies to hit the public markets, according to Matt Kennedy, a senior strategist at the IPO research firm Renaissance Capital. Tesla’s performance shows investors the potential for other EV companies, Kennedy said, and with a similar quality product, a company like Rivian could make the case that it could take market share.

Rivian’s financials are also somewhat unusual for a company poised to go public. Outside of the biotech sector, it’s uncommon for pre-revenue companies to go public through a traditional IPO. China’s EV company Nio is probably the closest example of one that did, as the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018 at the very early stages of commercialization. 

But Rivian is in as good of a place as it can be for a company going public with minimal revenue. It has pre-orders lined up, a major partnership with Amazon, and its trucks are expected to hit the market soon. Nio was in a similar spot when it went public in 2018 (though it had a little bit of revenue). The company’s stock price jumped considerably in 2020 and 2021 after vehicle deliveries ramped up last year.

Rivian’s deal with Amazon to develop a line of electric commercial delivery vans for the e-commerce giant sets the company up with a reliable revenue stream, Kennedy said. There also seems to be excitement about Rivian’s two vehicles planned for a rollout in the fourth quarter, he added. 

The company’s valuation is expected to reach as high as $70 billion or $80 billion—unprecedented for a pre-revenue company—Kennedy said. It’s expected to be the largest IPO of the year, in a year that’s already the largest ever for IPOs in terms of proceeds, per Renaissance Capital. According to Reuters, Rivian is aiming to raise as much as $8 billion through its IPO.

SPAC route proves popular

Several EV companies have gone public over the past year or so through deals with special-purpose acquisition companies, or blank-check companies.

The SPAC route is attractive for electric vehicle startups for two reasons: First, it allows a target company to list future expected revenue (speculative figures that regulators don’t allow startups taking the traditional IPO route to post), and it presents a way for EV companies to raise funds for their extremely capital-intensive businesses. 

In a way, the EV companies that have gone public through SPAC deals have made it easier for others to go public through an IPO, Kennedy said. That’s because with more publicly traded electric-vehicle makers on the market, there are now more data points for investors to examine and compare. 

Among the EV companies that have gone public in the last year or so are Nikola Motor Company, Lucid Motors and electric-bus maker Proterra. While Nikola and Lucid don’t have vehicles on the market yet, Proterra does, although it’s seen stock price trend down since it went public earlier this year.

“It’s a pretty bold statement when the largest IPO of the year is a certain industry or type of company, in this case an EV, so it appears from our current vantage point of the largest IPO of 2021, which is the largest year for IPOs ever. That says something about the industry,” Kennedy said.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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