Rivian founder RJ Scaringe thinks he's figured out the smart play for his electric vehicle startup: 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 EV startups out there, and most have had a rocky go of it — so you’d better have a solid business plan, innovative technology, manufacturing chops and plenty of capital.
Scaringe claims to have it all. “We’re building a business in the middle of an earthquake,” he says.
- Rivian plans to launch 2 battery-electric vehicles in 2020: a 5-seat pickup and a 7-passenger SUV. They'll debut at the Los Angeles auto show in November and will be built at a factor in Illinois.
- A choice of 3 battery packs under the floor will be offered, the largest good for up to 450 miles of range.
- That EV “skateboard” will be the foundation for as many as 6 Rivian vehicles.
- They'll have semi-automated (Level 3) capability at launch, but are already designed to support fully self-driving technology (Level 4), which is expected to come later.
- For well above $75,000, a person can probably buy their own Rivian. But people are 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.
Rivian plans to differentiate itself with its focus on high-end subscription lifestyle vehicles.
- The EV "skateboard" can be modified to suit many types of vehicles, as well as things like jet skis or snowmobiles.
- Rivian is also plotting a B2B play to share its technology with other companies.
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 6 potential strategic investors, both tech giants and automakers, but won’t name them.
- Currently, there are about 450 employees, with about half at its engineering center in Plymouth, Mich., and the other half in 2 California locations.
- The board and management team are led by auto industry veterans from companies like McLaren, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Ford.
Scaringe's backstory is that he grew up restoring classic Porsches in Florida and then went to MIT for a doctorate 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.
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.