It’s not everyday that the phrase “Have you heard about this new car maker?” can be heard. But, ripples have been felt from the new Rivian Automotive currently based in Rockledge, Florida and its CEO, R.J. Scaringe. The automotive prodigy has always been around cars- a student of the automotive industry- and soon this 28 year-old phenom could take the “Big Three” by storm.
Rivian Automotive was founded in 2009 after Scaringe achieved his PhD from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He studied not only the mechanics and inner workings of the gasoline combustion engine in the Sloan Automotive Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Wai Cheng, but also lean manufacturing processes and operations management. This unique trifecta of skills and experiences has enabled Scaringe to conceive of a vehicle that not only appeals to the car enthusiast, but also environmentalist and cost conscious consumers. Most recently he was profiled by the White House as a “Champion of Change,” in recognition of the work his company was doing to innovate and put people to work in America.
The main focus of the production philosophy of Rivian is a lean model. For those who don’t know what “lean” is, it’s a process by which “waste” is eliminated from a procedure, reducing time and cost along the way. One way Rivian is doing this is by making a car design that can only be put together in one way, therefore eliminating the possibilities of errors and reducing the manufacturing time. Interestingly, the Rivian production model almost completely removes the robotic worker seen in many of the major automotive production facilities and replaces them with- hold on to your hats- people. That’s right, flesh and blood individuals! Scaringe cites that the removal of expensive robotic technology and reverting to a live workforce actually increases production efficiency while reducing the costs associated with manufacturing.
“The focus will be to turn out tens of thousands of vehicles, not millions and not hundreds.” Scaringe said in a recent phone interview. He explains that the car’s modular design and “one way only” assembly will not only reduce errors in construction, but also ensure rigorous quality standards. The idea is that Rivian is not out to over-saturate the existing market, but to create a niche that offers high quality, great looking cars to people who love to drive but don’t want to spend a fortune doing it.
Later in 2011, Scaringe plans on announcing where the permanent home of Rivian Automotive will be located. He knows that it will be within Brevard County, Florida, but there are still a few sites to choose from. Once a facility is chosen, Rivian could be hiring 1200 or more workers, many of whom could come from the recently unemployed, highly trained NASA workforce. Facility and employee decisions still up in the air, the company’s main goal has been consistent from day one; to make a fun to drive, highly efficient vehicle that pays homage to a love of cars and won’t break the bank.
To achieve this, Scaringe has already assembled some of the industry’s best designers including the recent addition of 2002 Automotive Designer of the Year, Peter Stevens. Stevens brings bold design achievements, such as the McLaren F1, to a team comprised of equally forward thinking designers and engineers to help the initial Rivian model achieve an original and instant iconic image. Scaringe hopes that the aerodynamic aggressive body lines add to the company’s allure giving each model a distinctive, yet branded look. With a lineup that will include a coupe, a 2×2 4-seater, a crossover, and a sedan, each one should be identifiable as unique but unmistakably Rivian.
The costs of the vehicle are significantly less than any other luxury sports car on the market, with estimated initial retail price ranging from the mid $20 to $30,000 price range. But, don’t expect any skimps. The initial model will meet 5-star safety standards, have an exterior that draws the eye, and an interior that keeps even the most critical passenger happy. Scaringe says that even though the price point has mass appeal, the car he produces will be a luxury car that every car enthusiast will want to drive. “Premium feel… high end without the cost.” he indicated.
Also later in 2011, Rivian will begin to announce the dealership infrastructure it has set up to sell, service, and supply components of its cars. Scaringe indicates that Rivian will partner with already existent dealerships to be able to provide a full customer service experience. The design of the car itself will also allow for easy, quick repairs in case of collisions as well as customizing of exterior color for the individualist. Parts suppliers are also enthusiastic about being able to offer components in a timely manner to keep from alienating owners in the event of any issue.
While Scaringe is still pretty secretive about the exact specifications of the engine drive-train systems, he did say that the advanced gasoline engine will achieve 60MPG or better within the existing infrastructure, including compatibility with E85 fuels. The engine gaskets and other components will resist the problems caused by the ethanol alcohol that most all gasoline engines are currently experiencing. Also in the plans are a proprietary hybrid-diesel engine that could achieve more than 90MPG in the city and well over 100MPG on the highway. Plus, the sleek and aerodynamic body coupled with the aluminum frame and other weight reductions would lead to instant MPG improvements even before Rivian’s highly efficient engine introductions. This is all part of how he proposes to revolutionize the industry.
Scaringe revealed all of this, but still withheld the name of his debut into the very exclusive vehicle manufacturing sector. Many automotive industry onlookers see this as a sign that Rivian, like others before it, will never fully make it to market. Scaringe, on the other hand, says he’s holding back so that Rivian can “make a splash” over ripples of rumors. As the date draws closer for the first uncloaked reveal of the coupe that will change the automotive market as we know it, Scaringe promises that he will tell us, his fellow car enthusiasts, everything we want to know. But until then, we will have to be patient. He suggested maybe taking a drive around the “Space Coast” of Florida, and maybe we might catch a glimpse of the camouflaged, aggressively-styled Rivian as it passes us by while we are stopped at the pumps.