Guest Post: Who Is The 35 Year Old Founder Of Rivian Automotive?

This one’s a firecracker! I’ll let the writer claim it in the comments if he likes… otherwise, consider this an anonymous contribution with a lot to say — JB

Do you like trucks and SUVs? Pardon me for reducing you to a statistic, but you probably do. In fact if you are a part of America in 2019, it’s more than ​65 percent​ likely that you do. And with ​1 in 5​ residents admitting they would consider an electric vehicle for their next purchase, the 35 year old founder and CEO of electric truck and SUV startup, Rivian Automotive, must be feeling good.

If that didn’t sink in, let me repeat it: The surprisingly well funded car company you’ve never heard of is headed up ​by a 35 year old named RJ Scaringe. RJ has close to half a ​billion dollars in working capital, and currently employs over​ 600 people in four different cities​. The employees? These are folks with history at companies you probably ​have​ heard of… Mclaren, Lotus, GM, Ford. Given his youth, you may expect for him to struggle in this position, but he really doesn’t suck at it. In fact he’s quite good.

By all accounts, Scaringe is experienced, disciplined, enthusiastic, well spoken – he’s even good looking. This MIT Ph.D toting CEO has enough initials after his name to make you feel like you’ve made some terrible life choices, so how about we look into how one becomes the owner of such esteemed credentials a half decade before being due for a prostate exam?

While there are plenty of fluff pieces full of thick praise for Rivan’s new acronym-labeled vehicles, the R1T (T for truck) and R1S (S for SUV… genius), which debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, for some reason, like an episode of deja-vu, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it all sounded so familiar. I queried my inbox and lo and behold, dating back to 2010 was an email exchange I had with RJ’s Executive Assistant, both of whom were working for a company called Avera Motors, headquartered in Florida’s Space Coast. He would have been 27 then. With the help of the Google machine, I started to remember. Avera Motors was particularly exciting, because they were working on a prototype sports car, hybrid powered, estimated at 60mpg, priced under $25,000. They even had a revealing sneak peak of the quarter panel on their website, and a “Culture” tab that described the corporate visions of a true gearhead.

Now things get interesting. The car in the photo never entered production, and to this day has never been revealed or seen in public. Was it a real runner? At least it had nice RWD, mid-engine proportions, and large vented brakes peeking out behind 5-spoke wheels. We’ll never know, but what we do know is that in 2009, Scaringe locked down a $2,000,000 grant from the state of Florida and spent every penny of it on that car. Thanks to some solid investigative journalism​, it was revealed that one of the votes in the legislature for the grant came from Florida State Representative Debbie Mayfield, who happened to be dating a Robert Scaringe at the time. Robert Scaringe, senior, was on the board of Avera Motors, along with his son RJ, and of the 2 million dollars in grant money almost $900,000 was paid in salary with another $170,000 paid to unidentified “contractors.” Today Debbie is married to Scaringe senior, and is a sitting Florida Senator.

Questionable ethics aside, Avera Motors was still doomed from the start. Not just because they received a cease and desist from Hyundai over similarity to the name “Azera,” or because there was never enough money to build a NHTSA/EPA compliant production car, but mostly because there is no sustainable market for a single model manufacturer of a two-seat roadster. You almost have to wonder if RJ knew that going in.

So how do Avera’s undelivered promises become Rivian? RJ’s father is no stranger to fundraising, being a business owner himself. He owns a company called Mainstream Engineering, a company that over 25 years has received over $61 million dollars of venture capital… from the US Government. The Small Business Association proudly puts this figure ​on their website​. I’m generally an advocate of SBA loans, but that is A LOT of money, especially when Mainstream Engineering’s biggest line of business is ​built on military contracts​. Is it really a loan when Uncle Sam is both your creditor and your future customer (and… ahem… your lover)? My bank certainly won’t give me a loan on a Porsche GT3 and then promise to buy it back for more, although if I could figure out a way to do this, I would. It’s like knowing the secret ??? step in the 1,2,3 Profit Memes.

At this point we have a failed automotive startup connected directly to the US Senate, funded by questionable grants and recycled government loans funneled through a private defense contractor. Where do we go from here? Seems just right to involve the Middle East somehow. Right then, back to Rivian.

In 2012, newly minted Rivian Motors, rising from the ashes of Avera Motors (after temporarily being called Mainstream Motors in a direct connection to Scaringe senior’s business) needed more money this time around. As you know, EV’s have been the car-du-jour on the U.S. government’s menu for close to a decade, and with bureaucrats subsidizing and incentivizing the market, U.S. EV companies have been tasty investments for foreign partners. The Abdul Latif Jameel company is owned by the fourth wealthiest family in the Middle East, and Jameel, famous for bringing the original Land Cruiser to Saudi America, recently gobbled up a large stake in Rivian. In 2015, Jameel ​thanked the Saudi King​ for his “unconditional government support” for 60 years of importing Toyotas to the Middle East. The remaining Rivian investors are Sumitomo Corp, ​coincidentally a battery supplier to Toyota​, and 200 million in debt service to London’s Standard Chartered Bank. It’s all above board, but certainly interesting when you follow the money, and a reminder that public-private partnerships usually lean more heavily on the “public” than we realize.

Today Scaringe has almost $500,000,000 of working capital to get Rivian off the ground, making it the second highest funded EV company in the world after Chinese EV maker Byton… yes, Scaringe has more capital than Tesla did before it went public. No wonder people are calling him the Elon Musk of Illinois. He expects to sell his first vehicles in 2019, produced in a Normal, IL factory ​purchased from Mitsubishi for a $16 Million​ song.

If anything, this is a good example of how to get rich while constantly losing money. The massive funding and government support is in place, like Tesla. The man in charge is educated and charming, like Tesla. The Rivian products look good, like Tesla. Even if Rivian fails, or fails to produce a profit, like Tesla, it’s a win for Scaringe who was well groomed to continue the family business of recycling loans as income while socializing losses. As long as Scaringe stays well connected at the top, you can be sure he’ll never be reduced to a statistic.

A correction: this story originally identified Florida senator Debbie Mayfield as “Debbie Mayfair”, and indicated that she was a United States Senator.

26 Replies to “Guest Post: Who Is The 35 Year Old Founder Of Rivian Automotive?”

  1. elcivicogrande

    This is truly fascinating and fantastic investigative journalism. Love the writing, though the message isn’t exactly…. uplifting

  2. Shortest Circuit

    I know since Boyd Coddington that a sound business plan is not prerequisite to a successful company (or a mildly successful reality show) as long as rich friends are willing to hand you money.

    • NoID

      I never liked that guy. Any time I see a car show where the show’s namesake never touches a wrench or seems to know anything useful about cars, I tune out. The same with Bob Villa…the guy was surrounded by experts and he just flapped his jaws.

      • dejal

        I do like Bitchin’ Rides. He does have abilities that the show makes a joke out of.

        The people who work for him are artisans and look like they genuinely love working there.
        I think it’s the least “drama” car show out there.
        I was slightly disappointed with the current season where everything was “SEMA, SEMA, SEMA!!!!”
        I hate “deadline” shows. Cars looked great.

        The interior guy is a “Separate” business who’s made a name for himself in that industry.
        I’ve seen in magazines cars where that business is mentioned and Kindig It Design had nothing to do with the rest of the car.

        That show has a running slogan if place at a car show but don’t win the top prize.
        The staff knows they won something because there’s a box of donuts.
        When the box of donuts is opened and there’s no sprinkles on them they know they didn’t win. Why?
        “Only winners get sprinkles.” I love that line.
        I wouldn’t be too hard on Bob Villa. He was a contractor.
        He left This Old House because the producers wanted to go upscale and that’s not we he signed on for.
        Also, there was a farm house that was “renovated”. Not everything on the show is free to the homeowners.
        The farm house was renovated so much the owners couldn’t afford it and had to sell it. He wasn’t too happy with that. I remember that story appearing in the WSJ on the front page. This was 20+ years ago. I think the house went 300K over budget.

        Also, the contract with the show put a damper on making any money outside of the show.

        If you may remember after he left “Sweat Equity” with the owners helping out almost completely ceased to exist. I guess home owners were slowing the pace down too much.

  3. NoID

    What a downer. A former colleague of mine is the manager of one of the engineering departments at Rivian, and another former colleague works there doing…something, I’m not sure. I am fairly confident that Rivian is much less of a vapor than Avera, but the story of how Mr. and Jr. Scaringe established the company is a downer. Another tale of government waste and crony capitalism.

    Also, whoever thought this was written by BTSR, of course it can’t be him. This author, whoever ‘they’ is, didn’t make one single use of FACTS LOCK.

  4. Marta2000

    Debbie Mayfield is a member of the Florida Senate, district 17. Which is significantly less influential than a US Senator. Sorry to be nit picky but it is not a minor distinction.

  5. hank chinaski

    “business of recycling loans as income while socializing losses”
    The financial industry in a nutshell, a perpetual shell game of FIAT occupying a much larger share of the GNP than is sustainable for a functioning civilized society. We’d have fusion powered cancer-curing jetpacks on Mars if all that big brain power had been redirected.

    ‘Mayfield’ not ‘Mayfair’, btw.
    Typical FL politics.

  6. Jim

    I live in Normal where the old Mitsubishi plant is that Rivian bought. Rivian is getting 5 years property tax abatement for promises to hire up to 500 over the next few years. The state is giving about 50 million in kickbacks. There are less than 40 employees at the plant now. It is almost like having Area 51 in your town. There is no information coming from there and the deal worked out with town council was pretty hush hush. The town is responsible for grounds maintenance as part of the deal so we pay their snow removal and grass cutting every month.
    The plant has a huge parking lot with thousands of the recalled VW diesels. Who knows how much VW pays for that. Many citizens didnt want the town to make any deals with Rivian because of their questionable history but it passed anyways. Amazon announced they are investing in the company now. I still doubt they will ever mass produce trucks as promised. But as you say RJ will make out ok.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I think that Elio was a serious effort, but it seems to me Paul Elio seriously underestimated how much money it takes to start a car company from scratch. I think their original target was in the $100 million range (now it’s 3X that amount). Major automakers spend about a billion dollars developing a completely new vehicle. Double that figure if it needs an all new engine.

        I’ve spent the last 5 years developing my electric harmonica and I just have to worry about less than two dozen major components that have to work, work together, and be able to be assembled and disassembled (things break and need repair). A car or truck can have 20,000 parts or more. I’m amazed that something as complicated as a car or a computer actually gets manufactured. The only way that happens is with a fairly large, coordinated team (unless you’re truly exceptional, like Steve Wozniak working on the early Apples) and a large coordinated team costs a lot of money.

      • Ark-med

        As alluring as the Elio looked in concept, it was always going to be a hard sell in significant volume due to its being a (comparatively unsafe, relatively impractical, un-SUV-like) 3 wheeler. How much govt free money did they get, relative to Tesla, Rivian, et al? I’m guessing next to nil (though they did try for a DoE loan), because they didn’t deploy the favoured magic electron propulsion genie.

  7. Ryan

    I’m excited for the prospect of the Rivian truck but let’s see if it lives up to the promises. I would really love Jacks take on the Tesla 3 as I’m contemplating purchasing one.

  8. Ronnie Schreiber

    Today Debbie is married to Scaringe senior, and is a sitting US Senator.

    Florida’s U.S. senators are Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. Mayfair now sits in the Florida Senate.

  9. Acd

    It sounds like he learned well from Malcolm Bricklin and John DeLorean, two guys who managed to get rich from companies that went bk while the investors lost their shirts.

    • dejal

      The writer of that article probably stands in line overnight at the Apple Store every year, because IPhones are
      “Fucking Amazing”. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Putting aside the details of how things are extracted from the earth, I once saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck owned by a miner that said “Everything You Have Comes From The Ground.” The owner pointed out to me that whatever we have (except for things we extract from the seas), started out in the ground, either by growing it, mining it, or pumping it.

  10. Harrison Bergeron

    The big draw I feel of this company vs Tesla was that of an all electric pickup instead of a car. I wonder how they’ll do in the future if this is an actual venture when Ford rolls out the all electric F-150 they are promising, which should release around the same time.


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