August 29, 2014

Rivian Automotive

Economic Engine?

A lot of hopes are riding on a sporty blue car that occasionally can be seen turning laps in the parking lot of an industrial complex on the Space Coast.

Mark R. Howard | 10/31/2011
Rivian
[Photo: Jon M. Fletcher]

Aside from the crucial task of raising enough money to keep a car venture going, the biggest challenges Scaringe faces, say experts, are integrating all of the car's systems — electrical, safety, etc. — surmounting regulatory hurdles, and then finding dealers willing to sell and service the car.

Scaringe says most dealer agreements with major carmakers require exclusivity, so he doesn't expect to see Toyota-Rivian signs sprouting along the highway, for example. His initial plans are to market the car in Florida then throughout the rest of the country, with a focus on the strongest markets, such as California, Texas and locations on the east coast. He's had expressions of interest, he says, from dealers who carry a cluster of high-end luxury brands as well as from owners of chains of dealerships who could graft a separate Rivian operation adjacent to an existing dealership. Dealers, he says, "are hungry for this kind of product." He declined to provide the names of potential interested parties.

Scaringe will offer dealers an interesting approach to managing inventory — because of the way the car is engineered, dealers might carry only three or four completed coupe "shells" at a time, along with sets of exterior panels in all available colors. When a customer purchases a car, the panels can be attached at the dealership in less than two hours, Scaringe says.

As for service, he says the car is being engineered so that little training will be required of service personnel at dealerships that carry the vehicle. Service and technical information will be open to any mechanic, he says.

On the Space Coast, the prospect of a new assembly plant with about 1,200 workers that could make immediate use of the area's technically oriented workforce is heady stuff for economic developers — particularly now that the region has entered the post-shuttle period.

Frank DiBello
Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello: Rivian has an "almost perfect application of defense and space technology applied to a next-generation automotive platform."
[Photo: Gregg Matthews]

"I'm extremely enthusiastic," says Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, an independent special district that serves as the economic development agency for the state's aerospace industry. DiBello says Space Florida was intrigued enough by Scaringe's effort that it purchased his first prototype and had NASA engineers test it for structural integrity. A Rivian spokesperson says the results "validated" the company's engineering approach.

Rivian, says DiBello, has an "almost perfect application of defense and space technology applied to a next-generation automotive platform." Scaringe, says DiBello, is "incredibly bright and understands what he's doing. I'm convinced he'll be successful." Even with just a prototype, Scaringe's venture has inspired enough enthusiasm that he won the 2011 Governor's Business Diversification Award for entrepreneurship.

Meanwhile, Scaringe is already thinking beyond the coupe to a four-door sedan and crossover models built on the same platform. He also expects to offer a proprietary, diesel hybrid engine that gets 90-plus mpg as part of a future package.

One expert says Scaringe might have been well-advised to spend a few years working for a carmaker before trying to start one. Scaringe says that career path never occurred to him. He says he grew up watching the operation of his father's firm closely, and along with his formal engineering studies he says he has carefully studied the history of maverick startups like Zappos and Southwest Airlines.

Starting a car firm with a new manufacturing approach was all he ever had in mind. "I've wanted to do this since I was 16," he says.

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