Oct 19, 2018

This EV startup for adventurers has a two-part strategy for success

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

RJ Scaringe thinks he's figured out the smart play for his electric-vehicle startup Rivian: make EVs for outdoor adventurers and then license his battery-powered “skateboard” to other companies that want to sell automated EVs, but lack their own technology.

Why it matters: After 100 years, automobiles are shifting away from gasoline, steering wheels and personal ownership. But there are a lot of electric-vehicle startups out there, and most have had a rocky go of it. You’d better have a solid business plan, innovative technology, manufacturing chops and plenty of capital. Scaringe — a lifelong car nut and a Clark Kent lookalike — claims to have it all.

“We’re building a business in the middle of an earthquake.”
— RJ Scaringe

The details:

  • Rivian will launch two battery-electric vehicles in 2020: a five-seat pickup and a seven-passenger SUV. They'll be unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show in November.
  • The vehicles will offer a choice of three battery packs under the floor, the largest good for up to 450 miles of range, and four wheel-mounted motors for exceptional torque and maneuverability.
  • That EV “skateboard” will be the foundation for as many as six Rivian vehicles.
  • The first vehicles will launch with semi-automated (Level 3) capability, but the digital architecture will support fully self-driving technology (Level 4).
  • For well above $75,000, you can probably buy your own Rivian. But you’re more likely to subscribe to Rivian’s lifestyle services: hire an off-road EV for a ski weekend, camping trip and other adventures.

Yes, but: Rivian has plenty of competition. Tesla proved electric cars can be cool, inspiring copycats like Faraday Future, NIO and Lucid Motors. There are even some EV truck manufacturers, Workhorse and Bollinger.

The twist:

  • Rivian is also plotting a B2B play to share its technology with other companies.
  • The EV skateboard can be modified to suit many types of vehicles, as well as things like jet skis or snowmobiles.

Rivian has raised $500 million to date, mostly from Dubai-based conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel, a big Toyota and Lexus distributor with ties to MIT. Scaringe says he’s currently in talks with six potential strategic investors, both tech giants and automakers, but won’t name them.

The backstory:

  • Scaringe grew up restoring classic Porsches in Florida, and went to MIT for a Ph.D. with the intention of starting a car company.
  • He founded Rivian in 2009, in the middle of the global recession, and managed to raise a few million dollars for a sporty battery-powered coupe.
  • By 2011, he realized he was off track and redefined the company’s mission around the future of mobility.
  • Today Rivian has 450 employees, half at its engineering center in Plymouth, Mich., the rest in Silicon Valley and Irvine, Calif. Its board and management team are led by auto industry veterans from companies like McLaren, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Ford.

The bottom line: If Rivian succeeds, the sharing of its technology could be one of the biggest reasons. Imagine companies like Amazon, Starbucks or Apple launching their own mobility fleets on top of a generic platform.

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President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 132,637 — Total deaths: 2,351 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reported 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reported almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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