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Ford and Rivian’s Breakup: Sour Grapes, Growing Confidence or Something Else?

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Courtesy Rivian


Ford Motor

and


Rivian Automotive

are no longer planning to jointly develop electric vehicles,


Ford

and


Rivian

spokespeople confirmed Friday.

That actually isn’t a big surprise. 

Still, the move may leave investors wondering why joint development isn’t a good idea—and what the breakup means for the two auto makers’ stocks.

First, a bit of context. Even before the split, Ford (ticker: F) in 2020 canceled a program which would have seen one of its vehicles built on a Rivian (RIVN) frame. And this past spring, Ford gave up its Rivian board seat as Rivian’s IPO approached—although that might have made sense for competitive reasons.

“As Ford has scaled its own EV strategy and demand for Rivian vehicles has grown, we’ve mutually decided to focus on our own projects and deliveries,” Rivian said in a statement. “Our relationship with Ford is an important part of our journey, and Ford remains an investor and ally on our shared path to an electrified future.”

For Ford, the breakup comes with a twist of irony: The company helped Rivian get off the ground by investing in the electric vehicle start-up in 2019. Rivian’s market capitalization, however, has since exploded to roughly $125 billion, based on its fully diluted share count. That dwarfs Ford’s, which is about $77 billion.

But sour grapes over stock price rarely drives corporate breakups. And Ford still has roughly 100 million shares of Rivian stock, which are worth about $13 billion.

There are two other dynamics that better explain why the car makers split. One is that Ford is doing better in the EV game now than when it initially staked Rivian. Ford, which has sold about 22,000 Mustang Mach Es so far this year, plans to sell 600,000 EVs annually by 2023. Ford executives have also announced a $11.4 billion investment plan, which will give the business the assembly—and battery—capacity to manufacture about an additional 1 million EVs each year.

Ford has also seen some success with its EVs: Its Mustang Mach E was named Car and Driver’s EV of the year in July. The business also plans to start selling its all-electric F-150 pick up truck in 2022, competing with the Rivian R1T pick up.

The other dynamic: Partnerships between auto makers might not make as much sense in a battery-powered world as they did in a gasoline-powered one.

Consider the fact that partnerships between auto makers for traditional automobiles were all about scale. Companies would jointly develop a platform for a vehicle, so they could spread development dollars over two companies’ sales.

Scale still matters in an EV world, just not in the same way.

Here’s why: Engines, transmissions and a gas tank deliver power to traditional automobiles, with engine sizes varying depending on how big the vehicles are. But with EVs, batteries and electric motors provide the power. Larger EVs typically just get more batteries and another electric motor—usually mounted on an axle—than smaller EVs do.

EV platforms come with their own built-in scale, which can be leveraged across many types of vehicles that the auto maker already sells. 

Scale still matters and two companies can still jointly develop an EV platform. In fact, Ford and


Volkswagen

(VOW3. Germany) share some EV technology with one another. There is just less urgency to form the kind of partnerships that were profitable in the past.

As for the stocks, Friday’s news doesn’t mean all that much for Ford or Rivian. Ford stock, which closed down 0.9% Friday, was down 0.3% in premarket trading Monday.

S&P 500
and

Dow Jones Industrial Average
futures were both up about 0.2%. Rivian stock fell about 6% in premarket trading. But shares rose 4.2% Friday as post-IPO volatility continued. Friday was actually Rivian’s smallest daily move following its IPO on Nov. 9.

Investors still have to pick winners and losers in the growing EV business, but they currently seem to be giving the edge to the startups. They shouldn’t count out Ford or other traditional car makers, though. Based on the level of spending and new products from traditional players, it looks as if they aren’t going quietly into the night.

Write to Al Root at [email protected]

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