A Q&A With Rivian, the Amazon-Backed Electric Truck Startup



Image Credit: Rivian

Rivian Automotive made a great deal of buzz last week with the news that Amazon would lead a $700 million investment from the American truck startup.

Even the investment signifies an important landmark for Rivian and the wider shift to sustainable mobility. While terms of the deal weren’t revealed, this signifies Amazon’s biggest bet thus far on technology that could form the future of transport. 

“We& & rsquo;re motivated by Rivian’s vision for the future of transport,” stated Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer, in a declaration. “RJ has built an company, using a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative firm. ” 

RJ Scaringe, Rivian’s founder and CEO, was heaped with praise since he introduced the R1T, an all-electric “experience ” pickup truck, and the R1S, an all-electric SUV, at the L.A. Auto Show last November. The two vehicles will offer over 400 miles of highway driving capacity and range.

Scaringe’s vision is to eliminate the compromises that exist around automobile functionality, usability and energy efficiency — and provide this vision to customers by late 2020.

Despite these huge claims Rivian has managed to avoid the worst aspects of this hype cycle, that have harm other e-mobility startups.

Singer Rihanna appreciated the company’s high profile launch party in LA last autumn with her boyfriend Hassan Jameel, who is deputy vice chairman Saudi-based Abdul Latif Jameel Co., an early Rivian investor. But rather than rely on star power to tell Rivian’s narrative, Scaringe presented a glistening and simple unveiling of the R1T and the R1S the next day, where he summarized the vehicles' numerous high-tech and high-end attributes — including their quad electric motors, 0 to 60 mile-per-hour acceleration in 3 seconds, and adaptive “skateboard” stage.

While the R1T and the R1S are tricked out using consumer-friendly characteristics, Amazon is looking at Rivian as a partner to develop its shipping vehicles and construct out its logistics network. In accordance with Reuters, General Motors can be exploring an investment from the electric truck startup, together with discussions still continuing.

Sources say Rivian could be valued at between $3 billion and $4 billion.

GTM spoke with CEO RJ Scaringe late last season to find out more about Rivian’s electric vehicles and his wider mobility vision. At the time, Rivian had raised roughly $500 million and hired 600 employees. In light of recent news, total known investment has climbed to roughly $1.2 billion and the company now has a staff of 750 individuals.

From the dialogue below (that was edited for clarity and flow), Scaringe, a 36 year-old entrepreneur with a doctorate from the Sloan Automotive Lab at MIT, gives more detail on the Rivian’s engineering and go-to-market strategy. In addition, he explains the company’s early trials and tribulations, and also the way he launched a long-range, luxury electric truck that major business players are taking very seriously.

Q&A using Rivian's RJ Scaringe

Julia Pyper: Tell me about the “skateboard” engineering that amuses Rivian&rsquo. What’s included in the platform and how did you design it to attain the power and scope available in the R1S and the R1T?

RJ Scaringe: The skateboard is the vehicle’s core. So all our vehicles are built on this frequent architecture. It’s shared between the R1S and R1T, the truck and the SUV. It will sit inside the portfolio, which we haven ' t revealed yet under a host of vehicles.

In the center of [the ] is that the battery system and a drive system equally for the front and the rear of the car. The driveway is 1 motor per wheel moving to a reduction equipment, a motor setup. Because we’ve got a motor controller in every wheel, it provides us delightfully torque controller at every wheel.

Then it comprises the grid, so all the braking and … a air suspension system, using active roll control and elastic damping. And , of course inside the car. Those are.

That which we even consider to become part of our skateboard is that the digital stage, the system structure, and we've completely made that out of a blank sheet. That gives us a degree of network security and the ability to control and move data both inside and beyond the car. This 's what ' s available on the market beyond what we ' ve found.

To do this we’ve got very powerful electronics and applications groups. We do exactly the autonomous controller module, we all do the automobile dynamics module, we do exactly the battery control system, we do exactly the experience direction , we do thermal control […] and we all have the telematics module. All these are done to provide exact control of the information to us, but secure control of the information inside the motor vehicle.

JP: At the automobile launch you talked about optimizing the battery to get superior performance. What do you really mean with that?

RS: In the BMS (battery control system) situation we've spent, as you may imagine, a huge amount of time refining it and designing it to be a smart BMS, where it accomplishes every individual user’s behaviours and statistically understands how hard drive, and possibly more importantly, how you bill. And, depending on these behaviours, it adjusts. It s constantly making adjustments […] to maximize for battery wellbeing and for functionality.

JP: Have you disclosed that your battery supplier is? 

RS: We haven't disclosed the supplier, but we will soon. It s an extremely big supplier, we can say that. And it’therefore a 21700 configuration.

JP: Batteries around the R1S and the R1T include 105 kilowatt-hours into 180 kilowatt-hours. Why hasn’t any one launched a consumer car with strong, long-lived batteries that were such previously? What allowed you to do this?

RS: So we've managed to package a good deal of energy into a tight area. The efficiency is one of the highest on earth. Along with the skateboard architecture lets 180 kilowatt-hours to sit that layer at the base of the car. Obviously the power density on cells has develop and the cost of these cells come down a long time. Acknowledging that, we package the automobile to match a enormous quantity of energy. Along with the heating system we've made are what really enable us to pack so many tissues in this tight area. 

JP: What is Rivian’s arrangement? Where are you currently building these EVs and their components?

RS: We essentially do each the mechanical bits of the automobile just outside Detroit, the matters that have be bolted together and require manufacturing, supply chain, mechanical technology capabilities and an awareness of the understanding that's been built up around automotive engineering throughout the last century.

And all the high technology areas — applications, management programs, etc. — have been done at the West Coast at San Jose. That’s where we all perform our connectivity cloud architecture, we do our own connected experience and infotainment and we all really do our own self-driving platform.

In Southern California, in Irvine, we perform our battery system growth, the module and pack, as well as the BMS. Presently, we have a pilot line that builds our battery programs in Irvine. But the manufacturing line will be at our manufacturing facility in Illinois, where we’ve got a 2.6 million square foot plant which 's being installed as we speak. And the most significant thing relating to it is the battery gathering line that is automatic.

So Detroit, consider it as automobile technology, San Jose continues to be self-driving and connectivity, Irvine is propulsion and battery powered system development, and Normal, Illinois is automobile assembly and automobile manufacturing.

JP: You initially started working on Rivian at 2009. How hard has it been to get to this point?

RS: To make a company to make a product as complex as this has taken years of work and a great deal of time. This is not something that you can perform with 50 individuals or 100 individuals. You will need a group of hundreds of individuals. You will need hundreds of providers providing the thousands of components that go into the car. You will need hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of capital. You will need a manufacturing facility capable of producing at scale. And of course you will need to have technology that's discerned and actually supplies a reason for customers to select you over an current option. And it requires to have a layout and the brand position, the industry position, which 's exceptional. 

So we’re with no means after a line that is straight. It s been a sort of line in some instances, rsquo & now there ;’ve been plenty of roadblocks and where it s been hard in several ways.

But we have absolutely world-class talent. We've got several hundred providers all committed to supplying the thousands of components entering the car. We've raised considerable capital from a set of shareholders that may back the business because scale and we continue to construct it. We've got. We’ve produced the technology, and then we ’ve wrapped that that we don’t see. 

JP: So how can you get the funding that allowed you?

RS: It was really tough. When I started the company, we’d no cash, no teams, no capital, no providers, no technology and no product. And, frankly, if I knew how difficult it was going to be, I might have felt differently. But finally I managed to gather a very small quantity of money, a few million dollars in ancient investment. 

The initial product was more of a coupe. It was a product that is sports-car. We developed that for about years and at the end of 2011 we reached, in many ways, the fork in the road. We had 20 people at a neat prototype and the company, however, for all intents and purposes we ' d failed at raising any capital. So that the fork was to continue down the path I was on, trusting fingers crossed that something would change, or take that we had to really rethink the business. Obviously, I took the latter strategy if we had roughly a year old capital to endure, and we shelved the program and the coupe. 

I then began the process of redefining the plan to really make sure that the merchandise we were developing, the technology we're building, was wanted — that the world needed this thing.

Then I began focusing on how best to locate someone to sponsor this idea of producing products for experience, for purpose that removes the compromise we've grown so utilised to accepting. Ultimately, I moved back to MIT, where I did my own PHD, and that is where I linked with all the Jameel family. [Abdul Latif Jameel Co.] is a very big multinational conglomerate, but their core business is currently in automotive distribution, up and down the value chain. And, serendipitously, they have been thinking about how a position is taken by them and also help drive this shift.

We began the process of them cheering Rivian, and it moved from a small investment into a moderate investment into, of course a much larger investment. And the way we've introduced other shareholders.

JP: Your launching at the L.A. Auto Show has been praised to be very professional. Flashy EV unveilings are rather common nowadays, and invite criticism because of this. How can you avoid over-hyping your goods?

RS: The reason why we ve been quiet wasn’t to hide what we ve been performing … demonstrate the world, then it was to position ourselves till everything was ready and start speaking to customers. What's happened is the world's become confused with all these various [mobility merchandise ], as being further improved than they actually are, because most of them are presented. 

We would like to kind of under promise and over deliver. We took the choice to never say anything until we were truly ready […] And we when we made these statements, not be making statements that are air but rather be producing statements of reality.

And folks still now are now saying,”Well that's not going to be possible. They won't be able to get that kind of acceleration or they won’t be able to get that kind of range.” And 's after we waited a very long time to reveal [the R1T and the R1S]. So 's exactly what the thought was, to below hype as far as you can.

JP: Let’s talk pricing. You declared that the electric truck will start at $69,000 prior to tax incentives, and the SUV at $72,500. It’therefore essential to remember that these prices are for its variations of their R1T and the R1S. Presumably the array vehicles will be more costly. Do you foresee cost being a speed bump for the firm? 

RS: I think that may seem high, but we have to spend the context of two things. First, we've strategically positioned ourselves to proceed after this market’s aspect. It s important to make this note; we're not attempting to compete with a $25,000 or $30,000 truck or SUV. This is a very significant performance and technically advanced in terms of self-driving, in terms of connectivity design, in terms of battery dimensions. The section is about after the Individuals That Are spending $70,000 or $80,000 on a GMC Denali or a Chevy Suburban or a Land Rover Discovery or a fully loaded Ford F150.

So we've blatantly made sure that the automobile was architected by us ' ve . If you stumble into the base of the markets, then it & rsquo; therefore very hard to push on new technology.

JP: Have you declared pricing for the range truck and SUV?

RS: We haven't. But we will have a variant of the range automobile that is major that's sub $90,000.

JP: At the Rivian start, you talked about features like plugs and the trunks in the back of the car. How important are these customer snacks in getting individuals to get excited about your products?

RS: That's fantastic question. We think a great deal about where we put dollars, because every feature we’ve got in the automobile has a price tag. The automobile is essentially. And so these tens of thousands of decisions have to line up into some singular point: What’therefore the vision for the car? The vision for the business? For us it s the mixture of 3 things that don’t go a very significant degree of functionality, coupled with a degree of efficiency.

JP: What exactly is your “rdquo; eyesight & future mobility?

RS: Of an car that's incredible on-road. That is simultaneously useful, and effective. That is fast, 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, with an array that is important . A vehicle with ample storage capacities — the truck and the SUV have from trunks that are 3 times larger than the front trunk on the planet these days. And a equipment tube where we can match things down the middle of accessories, snowboards and vehicles and golfing bags easily. So no matter where it is driven by you, [this automobile ] should be the very best.

I suppose on a personal note, I'm somebody who likes to be outdoors. What always bothered me is the way I would arrive, in which there's biking or skiing, since I'd be driving in something that makes the matter I am going to appreciate worse. Meaning it makes the environment worse. So we wanted

And we find a great deal of individuals are struggling with this as well may wind up getting two kinds of vehicles. You’d be shocked at how common it is for individuals to have an electric car beside a 16 mile-per-gallon SUV. We stated, “Let's let them not have that compromise. ” They can have something that can still perform the excursions that they dream about, in an format that is efficient and carries their equipment.

JP: That makes sense.


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