Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe Explains What Originally Drove Him To Succeed

Starting a new auto company is incredibly hard and presents itself as a complex venture. Even today, the automotive industry remains somewhat conservative. Electric vehicles (EVs) helped in this respect by allowing more startups to dream of achieving success. Nevertheless, it took Tesla 17 years to achieve profitability. Here's what pushed Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe to achieve success as the leader of a brand-new automaker.
Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe 12 photos
Photo: Rivian
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For quite a long time, legacy automakers dismissed Tesla as being just a silly little project with green ambitions. It still garnered the attention of enormous players in its early days. Toyota and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz's owners) were among the EV maker's first serious supporters.

Fast forward to today, and that hopeful California-based company is now the world's most valuable automaker and is on track to smash one interesting record – turning an all-electric car into the world's best-selling vehicle. There's still a quarter left until the end of 2023, but things look promising for the Model Y.

After Tesla showed that you can actually challenge all the big auto players and quickly go around them, other brands popped up. Lucid, for example, is a manufacturer that puts engineering and design at the core of its existence. Formerly known as Ativa, the company just recently opened its second factory in Saudi Arabia and is expected to debut an all-electric SUV.

Fisker is another brand that tries for the second time to achieve success. Automotive designer Henrik Fisker learned from all the problems that the Karma had and is now taking another shot at building a succesful car company. It sells the Ocean crossover SUV, but the company will soon expand to produce a pickup truck, a halo vehicle, and another crossover aimed at urban dwellers. It could become another important American automaker if the deal with Foxconn happens and manufacturing begins at Lordstown former factory in Ohio.

The simplified skateboard architecture requires around 100 times fewer parts than the equivalent gas-powered vehicle. That translates into fewer contracts with suppliers, not needing as many employees to take a car through the production line, and an overall speedier process because all you need to do is focus on having a great energy storage unit, efficient motors, good enough suspension, and a cozy cabin.

Rivian factory in Normal, Illinois
Photo: Rivian

Moving forward no matter what

Rivian has that and has also made the right decision to manufacture a pickup truck and a three-row mid-size SUV first. Even though initially it explored making plug-in hybrids, the brand quickly turned to manufacturing all-electric vehicles. That served it well because, unlike Tesla, Rivian expects to reach profitability in Q4 2024 – 15 years after it was founded and just three years after it produced its first customer-ready EV.

Rivian enjoyed success because it offered a capable pickup truck with nifty storage solutions, a comfy ride, four motors putting out 835 hp, and a fantastic McLaren 720S-inspired suspension system. Soon, it'll start delivering the dual-motor max-pack R1T, which is cheaper to manufacture but offers 410 miles of range on a single charge. It could be enough to go from Tucson, Arizona, to San Diego, California, without stopping for a quick charge.

Next year, it'll also open a new factory in Georgia where it expects to make R2-series EVs that might have the 800V architecture, enabling the smaller and more affordable units to charge faster.

But despite all those wise decisions and a positive outlook, Rivian's CEO was challenged by investors on multiple occasions. Mainly because the stock price dropped since its Initial Public Offering (IPO) took place. It went from $130 in 2021 to $23 when writing.

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe
Photo: RJ Scaringe on Twitter
However, unlike other eccentric CEOs who lead Rivian's competitors, Dr. RJ Scaringe remained calm and collected during the debacle. Now, we get to look at what motivated the MIT alumni to succeed.

Finding motivation

In an interview with The Next Generation Podcast, the man was asked how he convinced people to come to work for him in Rivian's early days and risk their livelihoods to help the automaker succeed.

"It was hard," said Scaringe at first. But he immediately turned to his oldest son, who joined him in this interview and underlined that he didn't have kids at the time and didn't exactly know what some people might be risking and couldn't relate to them.

He pointed out that the first employee Rivian hired, who happened to be a parent, didn't wake up something inside him. It was cool that they had a family, but it was more important to make sure they were the right fit. However, when the company held its first employee get-together, Scaringe noticed that the person had children. That's when it struck him. "Oh, wow! You have kids. We can't screw this up," was what went through his mind.

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe
Photo: RJ Scaringe on Twitter
He said the thought of people putting their family's financial security on Rivian succeeding "weighed heavily and was probably one of the most stressful parts" of being the executive of an automotive startup.

Continuing on the same path

However, he admitted that the anxiety was helpful because it pushed him to focus on making Rivian a serious entity in the auto space. It also enabled him to remain level-headed.

The CEO also believes that the ingredients to starting and turning a company into a thriving entity are hard work and optimism. He added that at the beginning of any business, people or entities will try to convince you to give up.

RJ Scaringe also gives us a window into the recent past and recounts how potential suppliers told Rivian in 2013 and 2014 that building an all-electric pickup truck was a horrible idea. He also underlines that's when you need to keep your optimism and determination. But Scaringe emphasizes that it's essential to avoid being blindly optimistic. A leader must always encourage others to fulfill the company's vision, but they must not lose touch with reality.

"Sometimes, the only way out of a hard situation is telling yourself that you need to just keep pushing," the executive noted.

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About the author: Florin Amariei
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Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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