by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 17
November 2021
Reaction
14:00

Rivian’s order book hints at a bleak green future

The company seems to think that cars will become a luxury
by Mary Harrington
The Blue Origin New Shepard crew, including Jeff Bezos in a cowboy hat, next to Rivian’s R1S SUV.

Rivian is now the biggest carmaker you’ve never heard of. The 12-year-old startup, which makes electric pickup vehicles, went public last week with an initial expected price of $78 per share — only for trading to start at $137 per share: 37% higher. A week later, Rivian’s share price opened at $159, making the company now — at least on paper — the third biggest carmaker in the world.

The catch: Rivian has yet to earn a single dollar in revenue. Its first deliveries were only made a couple of months ago to Rivian employees. But prominent backers include Amazon, which invested $700 million in Rivian in 2019, and also Ford, who invested a further $500m in 2019.


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Is this just another example of investment mania in a hyper-inflated paper company, like the ‘WeWork’ shared office startup? That was once hailed as ‘our next Alibaba’ by key investor Softbank, before imploding amid rumours of nepotism, drug-taking and sexism. Perhaps.

But perhaps it’s also a sign of deeper shifts in the way we all live in the 21st century.

To a far greater extent than many in the ‘green’ lobby want to admit, it was fossil fuels that powered the egalitarian twentieth-century age of mass bourgeois prosperity. That age is above all symbolised by the car. In 1928, the Republican Party published perhaps the quintessential expression of that vision, boasting of more homebuilding, more production, better wages, ‘a chicken for every pot’ and ‘a car in every backyard’.

Today we live among mounting signs that climate change is beginning to bite. Last summer, Greece and California burned; last night, freak storms in the Pacific North-West left Vancouver flooded.

Meanwhile, even as politicians wrapped up their COP26 horse-trading, many of the keenest and greenest hold tight to their faith that climate mitigation measures will be compatible with that democratic dream of mass mobility and prosperity.

Rivian’s order book suggests otherwise. Though it initially promised to focus on electric pickup trucks — a quintessential symbol of rugged American independence, updated for the 21st century — it’s shifted its priorities. Instead of producing pickups, Rivian will now focus on the order Amazon has placed, for 100,000 electric-only delivery vans.

Reading between the lines, this tells us a great deal about our green future. And it doesn’t look like that 1928 advert.

Rather, Jeff Bezos has looked ahead and seen a world where private vehicles are beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen. (We can forget the chicken in every pot, too: the UN is also telling us to eat less meat to save the planet.)

And a world where private vehicles are expensive is one in which we don’t go to the shops. Instead, we’ll all minimise our carbon footprints by staying put, while Amazon workers bring us things in a Rivian electric van. It is, perhaps, what infrastructure looks like in the neo-feudal social order already established in California.

I don’t see a liveable long-term alternative to ditching fossil fuels. But we’ve barely begun to grasp the impact de-carbonising will have on ordinary lives.

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Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
1 year ago

Irrespective of what Rivian are doing, it has been clear for a long time that the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars (and even hybrids) will mean that car ownership will become something only the rich can afford. Quite apart from the fact that an electric vehicle costs something approaching £10,000 more than a petrol equivalent, you really need off road parking at home to charge it. I haven’t looked up the stats, but this means that in the UK electric vehicles will not be practicable for most people, especially the poorest. How can you have an electric car if you live in a tower block or a densely populated area with Victorian housing? And outside of London, how are people going to travel to their workplace without a car? Major employment and economic impacts. Seems like Amazon have invested into a scheme to provide electric vehicles to deliver stuff to people who won’t be able to afford their stuff because they have no job. Unless, of course, they are only interested in delivering their stuff to people in the wealthier towns and cities.
Apologies for the rant – I have a chip on my shoulder because my employer will now only provide electric vehicles as a company car, which is of no use to me.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

And you missed out the carbon tax for using petrol and diesel cars which is being applied to more and more urban areas, thereby limiting these areas to the richer people.

Peter Rigg
Peter Rigg
1 year ago

Don’t worry. It won’t happen. As soon as people realise the financial and social cost the eco-loon politicians will be out on their ears.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Rigg

It has already been happening for decades. Look at London’s ULEZ for example. I don’t own a car, but on any rational transport ground we should be building more motorways, not taking out hard shoulders on existing ones or building HS2! 80% of the nations passenger and goods traffic uses road and not rail.

I worked in transport planning, this is a long term plan using the ‘boiling frog’ technique of imperceptible changes over a long period that has little or no democratic support.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
rodney foy
rodney foy
1 year ago

I would expect electric car prices to come right down, but I also can’t get my head around on-street charging. And where is the huge increase in green power going to come from?

Presumably, this intermittent energy will have to be stored in vehicle batteries and delivered back to the grid when there’s no wind or sunshine. You might suddenly find that your car battery hasn’t got enough charge.

Please tell me where I’ve got it wrong, and that it’s all going to be fine

Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
1 year ago

I am not convinced people will just sit back and meekly accept the significant worsening of their standard of living by these policies. At some point populist parties will gain support and political systems will become unstable. Perhaps not everywhere, but the effects will be hard to contain.

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Shaw

We can hope

George Wells
George Wells
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Shaw

If you are cold or hungry, or more so if your family is cold or hungry, that’s all that matters. A ‘green future’ could come from technology, it cannot be mandated without the gulag.

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Shaw

The difficulty with populist parties (as the US has discovered) is that beyond making a fuss, they don’t actually deliver very much. If anything they’re more likely to do favours for the rich.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

Well, yes, the intention has to be that most of us will not have cars. There is the problem of being unable to charge an electric car, both because a high percentage of Brits do not have off-street parking and the fact that we do not generate sufficient electricity for everyone to do so. Especially when we’ll all be forced to get rid of gas heating/cooking/hot water. Heat pumps are electricity-thirsty and inefficient.

Plus, there’s the little difficulty of insufficient cobalt in existence for the batteries required for full replacement of all cars for this country alone.

The Great Reset envisions us all living in megacities. I suppose this is the reason.

rodney foy
rodney foy
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Yes, there are a lot of minerals needed, which are concentrated in dodgy places, and environmental disasters on the cards to get them out of the ground

Last edited 1 year ago by rodney foy
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Mary Harrington’s articles are always insightful, but dragging out anecdotal impressions on the supposedly increasing natural disasters does not add to her case one jot.

There is no evidence that forest fires or flooding are any worse or more common than they have been in in the past.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Absolutely. It would be great to see some proper stats on this. When I was growing up in the 70s something happening in California or China wouldn’t get ten seconds of air time on the news unless it was on a truly Biblical scale. I am sure e have always been natural disasters occurring, but with our 24/7 news cycles we hear about every single thng and hype gets ewers and readers so everything becomes the worst hurricane since records began or the biggest flood ever.

But not only do we have the non-stop hype of the global news networks, we also have the damage man has done that causes some of these things such as deforestation alongside rivers and over-population in areas that can’t cope with so many millions of people.

Also as a kid I remember some record breaking summers such as 1976 and recordbreaking storms such as the London hurricane of 1987. So is freak weather really a new phenomenon.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

A carbon neutral future merely means a 50% – 75% reduction in spending power for the citizens. The issue is just if this is worth it as many climate change reports I have seen show warming to not trigger much of a change to life on earth – more shifting of plant and animal populations – not barren lands.

Naturally the costs of de-carboning, and so reduced economic activity, will mean the poor become destitute globally – but it will make the Well off Westerners just tighten drastically, not become desperate – well, most of them.

Decreased economic activity will mean the social safety new will have to get a lot smaller.

The REAL disaster looming are these Paper Gains in the equity markets. At zero interest and 5-10% inflation it means savings and pensions and cash must be kept in the stock market rather than Bonds and Banks ( .02% bank interest Minus 5 – 10% inflation = negative real interest of 4.88 – 9.88%, this will make your savings/pension pot lose half its value every 4-6 years!). This is called “Being pushed out on the Risk Curve’. Having to put your money not in ‘Investments’ but into ‘Speculation’. When the ‘Correction’ of the stock market happens you lose 50% to 90% of your money, based on the stock market ‘Corrections’ of 1929, 1982, 2001, 2008. There is NO safe place to preserve your wealth, your savings and pension – and this crazy stock market is likely to destroy you.

So speculating on the Global Warming IS causing such Huge Financial Market Distortions, like the one above, Tesla, all the tech, – Plus the VAST money Gov is dumping into ‘Renewables’, Trillions, and it is all done with Debt they create, debt they cannot ever repay, and so distort the markets ever more….

Greta is the face of the warning expressed in Hosea 8:7 “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” (This proverb is known in modern times for its use in military speeches)”

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Gold? Thats always been a safe haven in the past. Anyhow, out in the world stuff is definitely starting to happen. I occasionally wonder if those at the top know the Saudi wells are running dry. It would explain a lot.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

I wonder how those Amazon van drivers will get to the Amazon depot to collect their electric Amazon delivery van. We face a paradox that the only people who can afford to drive to the depot, will be people who don’t need a job driving a van.

Dii Stitt
Dii Stitt
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Solution…the van drivers will live at the depot.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I doubt there will be van drivers needed. Within five years these vehicles will drive themselves.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

If a computer drove your car:

  1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
  2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
  3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason, you would simply accept this.
  4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
  5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.
  6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “General Protection Fault” warning light.
  7. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.
  8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
  9. Every time GM introduced a new car, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
  10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.
rodney foy
rodney foy
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

OMG! Ctrl-Alt-Del

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Story in the UK press this weekend – Tesla drivers not able to use their cars because they would not connect to the Tesla App, which was down for a few hours because of IT problems. People assume that if you buy a vehicle then it is yours to use as you please – totally under your control. The fact that some cars need to connect to an App shows that the manufacturers assume otherwise and want to maintain control of the vehicle, even if you have paid thousands to “buy” it. I am guessing that the manufacturers envisage a future where you do not own a vehicle but pay for a subscription, possibly to a fleet of driverless cars that you can call on your App when you need it. This scenario would also allow the Government to change the tax burden from fuel duty paid at the pump (with the tax income on a downward tend as more cars become electric) to a charge per mile system (which would also boost their green credentials – they have long talked of road pricing but haven’t had the technology to do it).
I am not a petrolhead, but I value the freedom of having a car available to me whenever I want it and outside of anyone else’s control, and with nobody monitoring where I drive. This isn’t possible when the car has to connect to an App.

Paul Sorrenti
Paul Sorrenti
1 year ago

get back to me about those share prices when the bio-libertarians create a self-replicating carbon neutral chicken behemoth capable of delivering itself to your door

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Sorrenti

Holding instructions in it’s beak, on how to strangle, pluck, and optimally rotisserie it, alongside a QR code, I assume?

“Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.” – Hitchhiker’s

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
1 year ago

There is a move away from car ownership, but it’s nothing to do with electric cars or the desire for cleaner air. The move to electric cars ought to permit more cars on the road, not fewer, as they mean you can have more cars in cities consistent with cleaner city air. Rather, there is a strong anti-car movement, even against electric cars. This is a move against personal transport, against private payments to have a more comfortable commute. It’s comparable to the move against first class train carriages, and is based solely on envy.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

WEF: In 2030, you will own nothing. And you will be happy. Or else.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

There is a forecast cultural change, which hasn’t been mentioned here, that it will become far more cost effective to not own your own car, but access a vehicle when you need it. Just like Deliveroo, Uber etc, you order a car and it self drives to your location. I quite like the idea of that.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I want my truck parked outside – it is always full of tools and fishing tackle and nets and dog beds and dogs – as they go along fishing, and to work with me.

Maybe you should also live in a room at the ‘Travel Lodge’ and avoid all than messy home ownership hassle.

Uber – I need a truck to take my tools to the job site, and later to take me to the plumbing supply house for 20 foot lengths of pipe, and then later to go fishing and will be using my nets in the marsh, so will be soaking wet and muddy, as will my dogs – and do you mind waiting wile I shop so the dogs can wait in the car?

rodney foy
rodney foy
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yep, I treat the car as extra storage

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I don’t. We don’t all live in London, or even in cities.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
1 year ago

‘But we’ve barely begun to grasp the impact de-carbonising will have on ordinary lives’. So do a bit of research into stuff like ‘smart cities’, and ‘mobility as a service’, and provide some useful information, rather than this sort of ill-informed nonsense.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

And what will happen to 40 % Germany Korea and Japan’s tier1, and tier 2 industries currently supplying engines, transmissions and components? Just disappear? The economic effect?… just imagine a Friday M25 queue on 3 different parts of the ” magic roundabout” when all electric cars run out of charge, and cannot be towed… one of them catches fire… and cannot be extinguished… and the emergency services cannot reach the incidents? I have not seen so much as one scintilla of comment on this particular certainty…

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
1 year ago

You talk as if private cars are the be all and end all of transportation. We lived for 25 years in the DC suburbs in the US. We had 2 cars and drove 25,000 miles a year. 99% of all journeys started and ended with getting in a car, even the ones where we wanted a congenial walk.

On retiring we moved to York, UK. We have one car and drive 7,500 miles a year. About 1/3 electric, as it’s a plugin hybrid. We would drive less, but trans-pennine trips to the family, and hikes in our National Parks, are ill-adapted to Bus and Train methods of getting there. So overall, about 75% of our journeys out of the house are by other means: foot, bike, bus, train. Those are much more safely available here than in the US.

We would go fully electric, but the charging infrastructure is not fit for long journeys, to rural locations. Perhaps Bezos is looking to a future where more of us have real choice of transportation: foot, bike, bus, train, as mix and match alternatives, or car? A Freedom such as Americans are forever trumpeting, while imagining that only unrestricted use of a car (or pickup truck) is the be all and end all of private transportation.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
1 year ago

De-carbonization is going to make everyone poor. All your numbers are useless gibberish.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

“Perhaps Bezos is looking to a future where more of us have real choice of transportation: foot, bike, bus, train,”

Bezos is looking to a future where he supplies you everything you need, and then much more, and he is the equivalent to to a absolute Monarch, and you are an ant in his grand ant farm.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’ve made a point of not buying from Amazon for at least 10 years now. I spread the message wherever I can, though it seems not to be having much traction.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
1 year ago

I tried my best to boycott Amazon for years, but ded up succumbing partly because there are now somethings that are hard to get anywhere else, and partly because some local shops don’t seem to really want the business that much. Many around where I live greatly reduced opening hours over the last two years (I think they got to used to the freedoms of lockdown) and the staff seem to lack basic product knowledge and are not willing to go the extra mile.

That said there are some fabulous exceptions to the rule and I dearly hope theyvsurvivrcand flourish and inspire other non-Amazon business, both off-line and on-line, to up their game.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 year ago

Climate change is real and in part due to human action. But, the greatest danger is not from a general rise in average temperature (whatever that even means) by 3 or 4 degrees over many decades, but the horrendous damage that will be done by efforts to stop it. Bjorn Lomborg has made the case better than I could and just go look at what he is saying and doing.
I have decided that for me, it is best to treat climate change not as an environmental risk, but a political risk. Certainly, in any reasonable investment horizon at any reasonable discount rate, politicians (mostly in the pockets of rich individuals and businesses who are grifting the issue) will do far more damage to investments and the quality of life of most people by prematurely destroying the energy underpinings of society, than will slowly rising temperatures that can be adapted to for reasonable cost.

Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
1 year ago

The great promise of the ecomodernist movement is that this is false: Through the continued and sufficiently unfettered development and application of technology, it is possible for us all to have high energy yet low impact lifestyles.

Valerie Taplin
Valerie Taplin
1 year ago

What is the viability of hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles? Using water, electrolysis powered by solar energy, and no CO2 production. Seems feasible. Inflammable yes, but so is petrol.