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Electric bakkie battle: Tesla is taking Rivian to court

2020-07-29 07:30

Lance Branquinho

rivian r1t

Rivian R1T seen at the New York International Auto Show in April 2019. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

• Tesla is the world's most valuable car brand.
• The electric automaker is sensing a threat from its competitor Rivian.
• The ongoing rivalry is now headed for court.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za


The world's most valuable car brand is taking a battery bakkie company to court. Although its share price is surging, Tesla is sensing a threat from electric vehicle competitor Rivian.

The rivalry between these two electric vehicle companies will now make a detour through the Californian court system, as Tesla alleges that Rivian has actively been recruiting its employees. Even more severe is the allegation that Rivian is incentivising Tesla staff to retrieve technical documents and trade secrets before they transition to new roles at the company.

Talented engineers and technical specialists often move between different companies in the automotive sector. This is not an unusual dynamic in the competitive market for superior human resources, but Tesla's greatest asset is its people and their collective intellectual property.

Tesla-Cybertruck-Electric-Pickup

Image: Tesla

It has been revealed that Rivian's staff complement now includes 178 former Tesla employees. When staff exit Tesla's employ, they are mandated to sign a non-disclosure agreement stipulating that no technical documentation can be taken with them. Rivian has countered that Tesla's accusations are baseless, but Tesla remains adamant.

Not repeating Tesla's mistakes

Whereas Tesla has been producing electric vehicles for more than a decade, Rivian is yet to assemble the first of its R1T battery-powered double-cab bakkies.

Tesla has broadened its global production network with a new Gigafactory in Shanghai and another under construction in Germany, reacting to a growing demand for its vehicles.

Electric car companies have proven very adept at battery design and powertrain technology but struggled with the industrial engineering required to build thousands of vehicles on deadline. Tesla's central production hub remains its ex-Toyota facility in Fremont, California, and the company has struggled a lot with teething issues there over the years.

Rivian is following a very similar model to Tesla. Its R1T double-cab bakkie is now ready for production, having been thoroughly developed and tested, but building it in high volumes will be challenging. Rivian is using a former Mitsubishi facility in Illinois and will be hoping to avoid many of the early production glitches experienced by Tesla.

If Rivian can gain insight into Tesla's production systems or have experienced staff at its Illinois factory who could flag issues with its industrial design and production processes, it could save the company a lot of money.

rivian r1t
Rivian R1T seen at the New York International Auto Show in April 2019. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


Being first is worth a lot

Battery bakkies are a potentially huge business globally, with massive profits to be made. This is especially true of America, which is the world's biggest double-cab market and a place where customers are willing to pay more than R1 million for their bakkies.

Both Tesla and Rivian are under pressure to bring their double cabs to market on schedule, which is Q4 2021. Expectations for these battery bakkies are enormous, and history has proven that electric vehicle brands are often late to the market with their products.

As the Cybertruck and R1T projects transition from prototypes to final assembly, both Tesla and Rivian are experiencing pre-production tension. Having the best possible people in place to identify issues and swiftly correct them will be the difference.

Whoever has the best technical staff at the ready to remedy any assembly issues, will get their battery-powered double cabs to market first. And that could be a crucial first movement to attain winning sales momentum for either Tesla or Rivian in the battery bakkie market.

Disclaimer: Wheels24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of contributors/columnists published on Wheels24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24 or Wheels24.

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