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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.

Go deeper

FBI, Homeland Security warn of increasing threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

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Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).