Tesla and Rivian are the two biggest new car companies producing electric vehicles in the United States, and I recently thought it’d be interesting to compare their production ramps over time. As a massive proponent of electric vehicles and electrification generally, I think comparing Rivian to the benchmark growth rates Tesla has set can help shape an understanding of what’s possible for new car companies. (Obviously it’s different compared to existing car manufacturers, for a variety of reasons!) I also have a reservation for a Rivian R1S, but am generally interested in the success of any new EV manufacturer.
I’ll outline the relevant early history of both companies below, and then get into the charts. While Rivian took much longer from its founding to unveiling its prototype vehicles, it’s now on a much faster production ramp than Tesla was at the same point in its history.
Tesla was founded in 2003, and the Tesla Roadster started production in 2008. But the Roadster was a vehicle that was produced in partnership with Lotus cars; the Roadster was a (highly) modified Lotus Elise chassis. When compared to scalable vehicle production lines, it’s just not the same.
The true car company history of Tesla arguably starts in 2010, when Tesla bought their Fremont factory from Toyota. This was needed for the Tesla Model S, which had already been unveiled in 2009, and which started production in 2012. The Tesla Model S was the only vehicle Tesla manufactured from mid-2012 to mid-2015.
Rivian was founded in 2009. It purchased its factory in Normal, Illinois from Mitsubushi in 2017, and unveiled the R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV in November 2018 at the LA Auto Show. Amazon invested in Rivian in 2019 and announced a deal to purchase 100k electric delivery vans (EDVs).
Rivian started production in mid-2021. This production was across two platforms and multiple individual vehicles: the consumer platform (R1T and R1S vehicles) as well as the EDV platform.
Tesla vs Rivian – indexing production ramps
I went back to press releases from both companies to get data on vehicle production. Tesla started manufacturing and delivering Tesla Model S’s in Q2 2012, but only started reporting production numbers starting in Q3 2012. Rivian started manufacturing and delivering R1Ts in Q3 2021, but only announced 2021 full-year production numbers, so I’ve assumed ~5% of the full-year production happened in Q3, with the balance in Q4.
Sync’ing this up, Tesla started mass production/delivery in Q3 2012, and Rivian started mass production/delivery in Q3 2021, nine years later. (x-axis for the chart below is indexed to Rivian’s timeline)
Tesla vs Rivian – comparison
Tesla was able to very quickly ramp to deliverying 5,000 vehicles (specifically just the Tesla Model S) per quarter. But from then, growth was slower, taking eight quarters (two years) to cross the 10,000 vehicles/quarter threshold.
Rivian’s ramp in year one has been slower, taking five quarters (versus two) to cross the 5,000 vehicles/quarter threshold. But again, Rivian has been producing five different vehicles across two different vehicle platforms. This accelerated in 2022, and Rivian is also now on a much faster production ramp than Tesla was at the equivalent point in its history.
This is also on track to continue throughout 2023 and 2024. The red line above is my projections for Rivian growth, based on its expected 50,000 vehicle production in 2023 and extending that rate a bit further. (There are rumors that Rivian could potentially exceed this by 20% in 2023, too.)
Extending further into the future
Rivian’s factory in Normal, IL reportedly has a maximum production capacity of 200k vehicles/year, or 50k/quarter. If we take the (very bad, possibly low-balled) assumption of the expected production ramp from 2023 into the future and compare it to Tesla, you get this:
Tesla started scaling massively with the launch of the Model 3, which began deliveries in 2017 Q3. Just one year later (2018 Q3) Tesla was manufacturing more Model 3’s per quarter than Model S’s and Model X’s combined. Indexed to Rivian’s timeline, this is equivalent to launching a new vehicle platform in 2026 Q3 and scaling it by 2027 Q3.
Interestingly, Rivian has already started construction on a new production plant in Georgia that (with the existing plant in Normal, IL) should allow the company to grow to 600k vehicles/year, or 150k vehicles/quarter. It has also stated that they expect to launch the R2 platform (lower-priced vehicles, similar to Tesla Model 3/Y) in 2026 and specifically manufacture it at this Georgia plant.
The next 12-24 months at Rivian will be interesting – will they be able to keep growing the production rate? How long will it take to get the maximum possible production from the Normal, IL plant? Right now Rivian is producing more vehicles per quarter than Tesla at the equivalent point. If the company is able to launch the Georgia plant and start manufacturing the R2 platform there in 2026 as expected, they may be able to continue to beat the production benchmarks that Tesla has set over the last decade.