Until yesterday, I resisted jumping on the electric vehicle bandwagon. I’m all for reducing emissions and protecting the environment, I just don’t like the two people at the forefront of the EV revolution: Elon Musk and Jim Farley.
Musk is brilliant, but his exceptional mind spews out a lot of bullshit, like promoting a narrative that he lives in a modest house near the Mexican border. The Wall Street Journal reported that Musk spends most of his time in an Austin mansion. Musk expressed support for the Canadian truckers, but he’s understandably silent on China’s oppressed Uyghurs. He wouldn’t dare speak out. Musk is a big champion of China, whose Communist leader for life regards him as “a technology utopian with no political allegiance to any country.”
Farley is the CEO of Ford Motor Co., and he’s the darling of Wall Street because of his ambitious plans to transform the automaker into a global EV juggernaut. Less well understood is that Farley’s likely plans will eventually include moving more manufacturing jobs to Mexico and overseas, white collar jobs to India, and relocating Ford’s EV headquarters to Texas or Tennessee. I expect Ford will become like IBM: More employees outside the U.S. than in America.
Call me old fashioned, I like to support U.S. companies whose CEO’s first loyalties are to America.
Walking through Venice yesterday on the way to my overpriced food emporium, I passed a Rivian pop up location featuring two of its R1T electric pickups. I’ve read some of the rave reviews about Rivian’s trucks and I’ve admired company founder and CEO Robert “RJ” Scaringe from afar. I’m not what you’d call a car guy, but I skeptically decided to check out the Rivian hype.
Let’s just say I’ve become a believer in the potential of electric vehicles.
Among the reasons I’ve never been enamored with Teslas is they strike me as soulless cars that were designed by tech geeks. I think of Tesla as a Microsoft Surface Go outfitted with a steering column and four wheels. The Microsoft reference is deliberate; I associate the company with shoddy workmanship and buggy software, just like Teslas are known for. I liken Musk to Bill Gates, whose motto was “almost is good enough,” not Steve Jobs, who demanded perfection.
Seeing Rivian’s truck up close one immediately appreciates it was designed by Steve Jobs-like car people. It’s readily apparent that the designers set out to make a great truck that was electric, rather than an electric vehicle that was a truck.
It would take an entire day to learn and master all the truck’s features. It has oodles of cargo room, including a tunnel that’s big enough for a person. The truck bed is 4.5 feet long but extends six feet with the tailgate down. It has a Bluetooth speaker outfitted in the center counsel that has various brightness settings for illumination and a USB-C port for charging a phone. (Tesla reportedly has been shipping cars without USB ports and inoperable wireless chargers.) There are electrical outlets galore. The sound system is the best I’ve ever heard. One of my favorite features is a built-in air compressor to inflate tires. Oh, the thought of never again having to go to a service station!
Insider has a nice rundown and photos of Rivian R1T’s coolest features.
I wasn’t alone in being wowed by the trucks. I had to wait more than 20 minutes for an opportunity to sit inside, as two couples were so mesmerized by the vehicles they wouldn’t get out. The Rivian employees clearly loved their jobs demonstrating all the various features.
Scaringe founded Rivian in 2009, and unlike Musk, he doesn’t appear to crave the limelight. He rarely tweets, and when he does its often to tout his team, not himself. Scaringe seems to avoid the press, as there have been few published profiles on the guy. But I like what I’ve learned about him and his values.
According to this profile in Forbes, Scaringe, 39, grew up in Melbourne, Florida and was an auto enthusiast at a young age, helping a neighbor rebuild Porsche 356s. He dreamed about founding his own auto company in high school and went on to study at MIT’s prestigious Sloan Automotive Laboratory from where he graduated with a PhD. It’s Dr. Scaringe, if you please.
My perception that Rivian was designed by car enthusiasts and not tech geeks proved correct. Mark Vinnels, formerly executive director of product development at McLaren Automotive, oversees Rivian’s engineering and programs. Jeff Hammoud, Rivian’s head of design, previously oversaw the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler.
Scaringe strikes me as a person of character. In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Rivian turned down a $1 million grant it was owed by the Town of Normal in Illinois where the company has a manufacturing plant. Normal was among Rivian’s initial investors, pledging $1 million and tax breaks if certain hiring and investment thresholds were met. Amazon and Ford were also investors.
“The impact of Covid-19 has reminded us all of the importance of community,” Scaringe wrote to Normal town officials explaining why Rivian wasn’t taking the grant. “The main asset of any community is the people, and as resources stretch thinner for every community across the world we want to do whatever is possible for a pre-production company in our position to help alleviate pressure on our home.”
Returning the money wasn’t a PR stunt because the gesture received virtually no publicity outside of Normal.
Rivian for a time was headquartered in suburban Detroit, but in 2020 it quietly relocated to Irvine, in Southern California. Although a source told Automotive News that Scaringe views California as a “cool place to be” and Detroit has “an old technology image,” the CEO avoided taking public pot shots at Detroit and Michigan. By comparison, Musk regularly trashed California officials when Tesla was in the Bay area, calling pandemic restrictions “fascist.” In March 2020, Musk predicted there would be almost no new Covid infections by the end of April of that year.
Rivian completed an initial public offering last year, raising nearly $14 billion. It’s shares immediately soared, and for a brief time was worth twice that of Ford’s. Its stock has still fallen by about two-thirds because of production concerns.
I’m hoping that Rivian ultimately prevails. While Tesla has a giant head start, that company’s luster may be on the decline. Axios in a recent report declared that Tesla “is losing its status as a liberal darling” for various reasons, including Musk’s big mouth. Complaints about Teslas are so pervasive in China that the company asked its Communist government allies to censor critics on social media. Tesla is now threatening its Chinese critics with lawsuits. My Hawaiian cousin Lorn, a true environmentalist and one of Tesla’s early buyers, recently cancelled an order for a newer model because of multiple price hikes.
Meanwhile, Ford just announced it is considering producing electric vehicles in India for export.
At the end of the day, it’s what’s good for Rivian that’s good for America. Here’s to Scaringe and his team!
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