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Tesla rival expanding in Austin, gets noticed by Elon Musk

Rivian has two electric truck models, but is backlogged on production. (Rivian)

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.

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.

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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