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Meet the man challenging Elon Musk, with help from Jeff Bezos

When founders meet
1/8

When founders meet

Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, sought out RJ Scaringe, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, and spent the better part of a day in Plymouth, Michigan, at the company he founded, Rivian. Bezos got a preview of Rivian’s electric pickup truck and sport utility vehicle and liked what he saw. Not long after his visit, Amazon led a $700 million investment in Rivian. Two months later, in April, Ford Motor invested $500 million. All told, Rivian has raised $1.7 billion without selling a single truck or SUV. (Pic: Rivian)

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Keeping a low profile
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Keeping a low profile

If you have not heard of Rivian before, that was intentional. Until recently, it was in stealth mode, operating out of unmarked buildings and making few public announcements. But no longer. By the end of 2020, Rivian intends to begin producing premium electric vehicles, with a greater range than anything on the road today. (Pic: Rivian)

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Rivian trucks to match Tesla's cars
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Rivian trucks to match Tesla's cars

Rivian is promising to do for trucks what Tesla did for luxury cars. That’s where the similarities between the two electric automobile makers end. Even as Tesla and its brash chief executive, Elon Musk, made headlines by setting and falling short of some audacious goals, Scaringe and Rivian have spent a decade fine-tuning their designs. Walking around a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, Scaringe points to where stamping presses will churn out car parts like fenders and doors. But he is hoping to do more than sell cars. Scaringe wants to dispel myths he thinks still surround electric vehicles. (Pic: Rivian/Facebook)

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Ford investing in Rivian
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Ford investing in Rivian

In addition to developing advanced battery systems, Rivian has also designed a skateboard-like chassis that it plans to sell to other carmakers. For Ford, investing in Rivian is a way to leapfrog the competition and get new ideas from a startup as it and other automakers race to prepare for an electrified future. Amazon has been mum about its interest in the company, but Rivian’s vehicles could help the retail giant reduce its carbon footprint as it builds its own distribution network. (Pic: Rivian/Facebook)

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How it all began
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How it all began

Scaringe founded Mainstream Motors, the business that would later become Rivian, in 2009 after completing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at MIT. His timing was odd to say the least — the financial crisis had made investors skittish, and the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler did not bode well for an automotive startup. Family and friends provided the initial funding, and Scaringe and his father both took out second mortgages to raise money. Rivian takes its name from Florida’s Indian River, close to where Scaringe grew up in Melbourne, Florida. (Pic: Rivian/Facebook)

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Similar yet different
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Similar yet different

Rivian’s R1S SUV bears a resemblance to a Range Rover, while the flatbed in its R1T pickup is shorter than the bestselling Ford F-150. “Rivian’s products are not really meant to be work trucks,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst with IHS. “They aim to be lifestyle products, capable but meant for recreational use.” The R1S will directly challenge Tesla’s SUV, the Model X, and although Musk has said he will introduce a pickup, Tesla has yet to unveil one. The R1S and the R1T will start at around $70,000 and cost more than $90,000 for fully loaded models that can travel up to 400 miles on a full charge. Rivian has received tens of thousands of reservations from buyers who have made deposits of $1,000 each. (Pic: Rivian)

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Decoding RJ Scaringe
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Decoding RJ Scaringe

Designers laud Scaringe's sophisticated design sensibilities. Brand experts cite his marketing know-how. “I’ve spent years trying to decode R.J. and predict what he wants,” said Larry Parker, creative director at Rivian. “He’s moving so fast. Sometimes we don’t know where he is going. To keep up with R.J. is not easy.” While Tesla has failed to reach its own lofty production targets in recent years, Scaringe is only promising about 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles in 2021, the first full year of production. Before that happens, Rivian will have to create assembly lines for its vehicles and batteries, which Tesla’s problems have shown is very difficult. The company will also have to establish a retail operation to get its vehicles to buyers. (Pic: Twitter)

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A clear vision
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A clear vision

Even as Rivian has grown and new investors have come aboard, Scaringe has made clear he wants to hold the reins tight. General Motors discussed investing in the company this year, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the automaker and Scaringe could not agree on terms. GM was demanding more control and exclusivity than he was comfortable with. For inspiration, Scaringe looks to Alex Honnold, a rock climber who scaled Yosemite’s El Capitan without equipment. A poster for a documentary about the climb, “Free Solo,” is on the wall of Scaringe’s office in Plymouth. “Hindsight has a lot of advantages, one of which is that everything looks crisper and cleaner, but at the time you don’t know the path forward,” he said. “So you’re going up this infinitely steep climb.” (Pic: Rivian) (Text: New York Times)

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