- EV startups can lose customers while they make people wait.
- Startups without dealers are learning new lessons in customer service.
- While startups ramp up production, legacy companies can benefit.
Philip Pao placed an order for a Rivian R1T in November 2019. After three years of waiting, they decided it was time to create a backup plan.
He placed an order for a gas-powered Toyota pickup truck, and now it’s a race to see who can deliver it first to Fairfax, Virginia. (Rivian is likely to lose. The company says it can’t give it a delivery window until April.)
“At this point I’ve made up my mind,” Pao said, “I’m just going to cancel my Rivian order.”
For Pao and others like him, waiting on an electric vehicle has become a betting game of sorts.
Customers are hedging their bets with orders for vehicles from a range of companies, from startups like Rivian to legacy companies like Ford and Toyota. While they sit in a virtual queue – sometimes for years – new to some order holders is the level of inter-manufacturer customer service they get while they wait.
“It’s the less glamorous side of the business, but it’s just as important to a new brand as the fun part of designing and prototyping,” said Jessica Caldwell, automotive analyst at car-shopping website Edmunds. “The longer the wait is, and other products come along, the easier it is to switch brands.”
EV Startups Learn Customer Service
Electric vehicle startups are learning a hard lesson in customer service, Caldwell said, as they try to keep buyers on the hook for years. That’s a big difference from the way cars have historically been sold — when a salesperson aims to get you home in a new car that day.
Startups like Rivian have taken a page out of Tesla’s book, eschewing brick-and-mortar retail locations and dealership networks. This gives companies direct access to their customers and more control over their pricing, but it can also create friction between a brand and its new batch of customers.
As startups make more deliveries, they are stressing out on long order queues – something that used to be a bragging right. Rivian and Lucid both stopped reporting pre-order numbers to investors on earnings in recent weeks.
While it’s important for EV startups to take care of customers after delivery, it’s equally important to have some of these order-holders by your side, Caldwell said.
“These are the early adopters — the people in the peer group who give EV buying advice,” Caldwell said. “Having those people in your fold is very important when you have to compete with the likes of General Motors and Ford, who have huge, deep advertising pockets.”
Some Rivan order holders are losing hope
Insider has spoken to or corresponded with nearly three dozen current and former Rivian order holders in recent months.
Many said the company offered test drives in their area over the past year to encourage them to be patient. But for many people (who are often also the shareholders who back a company’s blockbuster IPO), it’s the stock price plunging, the wait, and now the company going back to Sting’s initial promises.
The final straw for the Pao has been Rivian’s inability to deliver a Max Pack, 400-mile range battery with the quad-motor this year. Once this change was made, Pao received a notification that they would receive a new delivery window estimate for the dual motor vehicle at the end of February, but this has been delayed until April.
Pao said, “I want what you’ve been marketing since the beginning.” “The only thing that can regain my confidence is if they intend to produce.”
Rivian previously said that delivery times are “based on a number of factors, including delivery location, configuration, and original preorder or reservation date.” A spokesperson also said that customers experiencing delays have been connected to customer service.
When Rivian first started taking orders, it touted an impressive 400-mile battery for its pickups and SUVs, all of which made it unique among others that hadn’t entered those segments yet. was and certainly did not meet that range.
Fast forward several years, and other automakers are offering similarly attractive products that the Rivian currently offers EPA ratings of 314 to 320 miles per charge: Ford’s F-150 The Lightning Pickup boasts a range of 320 miles. On the extended range pack, the Chevrolet Silverado electric truck is estimated to have a range of 400 miles, and the Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUV has an advertised range of 303 miles.
Wade Higgins, a former Rivian employee who also has an order in place for the R1S, had one piece of advice for others waiting in line: “One of the things you really need to know: which one you Want configuration?
“If you want your vehicle right away, you need some flexibility in taking what you’re building now,” he said, “and if you’re super dead-set on getting what you want, you Patience is required.”
Are you a current or former Rivian employee, Rivian vehicle owner, or Rivian order holder? Contact these reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.