For driving eco-conscious change in the automotive industry
Until recently, sustainability-minded drivers in search of rugged but Earth-friendly vehicles had few options. That’s changing—and RJ Scaringe has a lot to do with why.
The son of an engineer, Scaringe knew early on that he wanted to design cars. While studying for his PhD at MIT’s Sloan Automotive Laboratory in the United States, he worked on homogeneous charge compression ignition engines that produce lower emissions. After graduation, Scaringe set out to fulfill one of his childhood dreams: designing a sports car.
But he couldn’t square the project with his conscience. Better than most, Scaringe understood the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels. He wanted his company—named Rivian for the sprawling lagoon bordering his Florida hometown—to produce vehicles that helped solve the climate crisis, not make it worse.
With a new sense of purpose, Scaringe scrapped the sports car project and spent the better part of the next decade developing technology. That included an advanced battery capable of powering a car for 400 miles (644 kilometers), as well as a flexible, self-contained skateboard chassis that holds a vehicle’s battery pack, suspension and electric motors for propulsion.
Within weeks of unveiling his prototypes at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2018, powerful backers came knocking. Amazon led a US$700 million round of investment, contracting Rivian to produce 100,000 electric delivery vans by 2030. Other heavy-hitting investors soon followed, including car maker Ford, which now owns a 12 percent stake in Rivian, and Cox Automotive, whose network of dealerships spans the United States.
Late last year, right before Rivian went public, the company released the Rivian R1T, the first electric pickup (with vegan leather seating) to hit the U.S. market. Scaringe himself drove the first finished consumer vehicle off the Rivian production line.
Seeing his dream realized, standing among the people who made it possible, brought the young CEO to tears. "This is incredible," he said. "This is our first step in building products that really are designed and engineered and thought about to impact and change the world."
More than 71,000 first-gen Rivian trucks and SUVs have been pre-ordered, and the company has announced that six additional models are already in the works, along with a new US$5 billion manufacturing plant.