Two truck models, a market debut and an Amazon collaboration later, Rivian is the next electric vehicle company to step into the spotlight—and it's making a presence in Austin.
The underdog electric car company made headlines this week when it made its Wall Street debut Wednesday and scored the biggest American Initial Public Offering since Facebook. Based in Irvine, California, it gains steam as Tesla has had its most profitable year yet and is opening its newest Gigafactory in southeast Travis County by the end of the year.
Rivian is now the fifth-largest automaker by market cap, and it's been hard for Tesla CEO Elon Musk to turn a blind eye.
Musk started the week off making headlines for selling roughly $5 billion worth of Tesla stock and then another 639,737 shares Friday following a Twitter poll asking for input. Then Thursday, he broke his silence on the Rivian news and commented on what the true markers of success will be for the automaker. He said they'll need to reach high production and have expenses match revenue.
I hope they\u2019re able to achieve high production & breakeven cash flow. That is the true test. \n\nThere have been hundreds of automotive startups, both electric & combustion, but Tesla is only American carmaker to reach high volume production & positive cash flow in past 100 years.— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1636665225
Currently, Rivian has a 55,000 vehicle order backlog and projects third-quarter revenues to be between zero and $1 million. CNBC reported on an Austinite who was uncertain when he'd get his vehicle but was able to buy into Rivian's IPO as a pre-order customer. After purchasing 175 shares Tuesday, his stake was worth more than $17,000 the next day. Earlier this fall, the first customer vehicle made it out of production in Normal, Illinois.
After months of building pre-production vehicles, this morning our first customer vehicle drove off our production line in Normal!\u00a0 Our team's collective efforts have made this moment possible. Can't wait to get these into the hands of our customers!pic.twitter.com/8ZidwTaXRI— RJ Scaringe (@RJ Scaringe) 1631643414
In both land and talent, Rivian is making strides at competing against Tesla since its launch in 2009. In August last year, Rivian hired former Tesla executive Nick Kalayjian, who now works in product development for the EV startup. Key engineers involved in Tesla's Model 3 launch have also joined Rivian.
And while Tesla is close to opening its massive $1.1 billion Gigafactory, Rivian could see its own Texas factory in the works too. As of now, the company plans to invest $2.1 million in renovations for a facility at the intersection of Lamar and Highway 183, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Near Fort Worth, Rivian sought a $5 billion factory earlier this fall. The Sierra Club and other environmentalists asked Tarrant County to delay a decision on a proposal for $35.8 million in tax abatements, calling for leaders to establish more specific agreements on worker compensation and retention, safety and environmental stewardship.
Texas Sierra Club chapters wrote to Tarrant County Commissioners, "If Rivian is to receive such a large tax break, they should be held to high-performance labor and environmental standards."
While it works on getting a factory, more Texas projects could be in the works, including talks of putting charging stations in El Paso, Columbus, Houston and Waco.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.