RJ Scaringe is super annoying.
It’s not just that he’s tall and fit due to a vegan diet and his obsession with mountain biking, it’s also that he’s smart and friendly with a quiet confidence and a bright, easy smile. With his glasses and brown tousled hair, there’s a kind of Clark Kent vibe about him.
And wouldn’t you know it, right before my eyes, Scaringe changes from mild-mannered founder and CEO of the world’s most hotly anticipated EV startup to trailside superhero. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Watch the below video first and come back for what it doesn’t show:
We’re in Moab, Utah, where it’s hot enough to shut down two windshield-mounted GoPros. This is home to some of the world’s most famous off-road trails and thus is mecca for Jeepers, mountain bikers, hikers—anyone who loves the outdoors.
This is a unique detour on our epic Trans-America Trail journey with Rivian, carved out during the changeover between Leg 3 and Leg 4 so that Scaringe can meet our team and I can chat with him and test drive his baby.
While familiarizing myself with the R1T, I note that Scaringe seems preternaturally calm for someone who just took a half-day break while their company’s first factory is just weeks away from belching out its first product, and for someone at the helm of a multibillion-dollar EV startup with huge expectations thanks to massive investments from Amazon and Ford. But if he’s in pre-production hell, at least the beer is cold. Mostly he just wants to know what I think of the truck as he fiddles with menus and switches drive modes to suit the varied terrain.
While off-road, our small convoy of pickups (two R1Ts and a Ram 1500 TRX) zips by a random truck and trailer loaded with a side-by-side. These are as common as scrub brush here, so we think nothing of it until a few minutes later, when the side-by-side pulls alongside us as we’re preparing to heroically “send it” up the trail ahead for our camera-wielding colleagues.
“Whoo-hoo-what-are-you-guys-up-to-I-just-got-a-job-starts-next-week-so-thought-F-it-let’s-go-wheeling-so-yesterday-I-drove-my-rig-straight-from-Pennsylvania-to-here,” says the super enthusiastic and possibly overserved driver.
“I-saw-you-guys-go-by-and-said-I-need-to-see-what-they’re-up-to!” he continues, eyeing the R1T.
I immediately regret mentioning the cameras on the other side of the hill and suggesting he go first, as Mr. Pennsylvania immediately takes off, sending his Polaris sashaying up and over the trail’s ruts and rocks with enough force to launch the spare tire out of the back, at which point it bounds toward us.
When we arrive on scene, Polaris spare tire and all, we’re relieved to find our new friend with—as distinct from on top of—our colleagues, although the terrain and his enthusiasm flattened his rear tire. Without a word, Scaringe jumps in to help, grabbing an impact wrench and unbolting the wheel with a practiced hand, while other Rivian crew members jack up the Polaris. The spare we collected comes out of our R1T’s bed and a few minutes later, we bid our Pennsylvanian friend farewell and return to the trail.
It’s a brief, unscripted moment but the reflexive selflessness stands out. Neither Scaringe nor any of the Rivian team missed a beat, and notably, there was no side-eye gawking at the boss getting his hands dirty. This was not for show; this was normal. Job done. Move on.
Rivian’s Reason for Being as Told by RJ Scaringe
In addition to the above anecdote and our video interview, Scaringe also recounted Rivian’s origins and philosophy in a series of exchanges during our drive, which we’ve compiled here with minimal edits for length and clarity.
“When I started, the strategy was to build a sports car, I used a sports car to build the brand and worked on that, built a prototype, built a thing that in a video would look real, but was 0.1% real. There wasn’t a single supplier-sourced component on it. It was really a hacked-together car. I came to the realization—and it was almost something we knew really early on, but it became more and more clear over time—that the product plan and the strategy just wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t a big enough idea. So at the end of 2011, I made the decision to shelve that and pivot essentially to a new thing. But it wasn’t as if we went to bed on a Friday and woke up on a Monday and it was like, ‘Here’s the strategy all clearly laid out. ‘
“It was more of a thing where we said, “We’re not going to do this. Let’s now figure out what we want to do.” And we essentially started thinking how do we create a brand and a product portfolio in a company that maximizes impact? That goes into segments that shift the way people think about electrification, but I’d say just as important, creates the biggest opportunity to disrupt existing expectations of trade-offs? Trade-offs between on-road capability and off-road capability, refinement and utility. And then importantly, that all comes together to build a brand that is really scalable—that can scale to different segments, price points, and form factors, and scale globally. Essentially the brand we wanted to build was the brand that would enable doing things like this [Trans-America Trail]; to do the things you want to take a photograph of and the things you want to remember for 25 years.
“Once we figured that out, then it was, ‘All right, what type of vehicle do I want to build?’ It iteratively arrived at something that was exceptionally good on- and off-road. We came up with this sibling set of vehicles with a truck and an SUV. It’s the same car, but they have two different flavors—one obviously has a bed and the other has another row of seats. [The R1T and the R1S are] the halos to launch the brand and to launch the company, under which we’ll build a portfolio of other different shapes, form factors, prices. But these act as the brand ambassadors.
“These products are really our handshake with the world as a brand. To go on this kind of a drive [across the TAT] you’d normally have the use of the least efficient vehicles on the road. It’s this really uncomfortable juxtaposition of going out to enjoy the outdoors, but in things that are simultaneously making those very same environments less likely to be around for generations to come.
“That was part of the initial inspiration to say, ‘How can we create something that allows you to go out on these adventures?’ Whether it’s a drive like this, or a drive to the beach, or on a twisty mountain road, do it in a way where you can enjoy it but not make that environment worse. And where it gets really interesting is being really sharp and focused around what the product needs to be.
“So the thousands and thousands of decisions we made in developing the products were around making this type of lifestyle, this type of experience, really easy to access. When you think about high-performance vehicles, you’re not able to use them on public roads in the sense that you can’t really fully exercise their capabilities. Whereas with a vehicle like this … we just pulled off the highway and here we are able to use it in an environment it was designed for. So it all of a sudden makes these environments easier for people to flex the ability of the vehicle and also get out and do things they probably aren’t able to do in a normal car. “
I take it back. Scarenge isn’t super annoying, or even annoying at all. He’s a helpful, thoughtful leader with a vision to deliver everything we love about driving in vehicles that also tackle the challenges of environmental responsibility—and that’s what has taken him from Clark Kent to Rivian’s Superman.
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