(p. B1) NORMAL, Ill. — By definition, the time of the world’s richest man is pretty valuable. But early last fall, Jeff Bezos sought out a 36-year old entrepreneur named R.J. Scaringe and spent the better part of a day in Plymouth, Mich., at the company he founded, Rivian.
Mr. Bezos got a preview of Rivian’s electric pickup truck and sport utility vehicle and liked what he saw. Not long after his visit, Amazon led a $700 million investment in Rivian. Two months later, in April, Ford Motor invested $500 million. All told, Rivian has raised $1.7 billion without selling a single truck or S.U.V.
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(p. B6) Rivian is promising to do for trucks what Tesla did for luxury cars.
That’s where the similarities between the two electric automobile makers end. Even as Tesla and its brash chief executive, Elon Musk, made headlines by setting and falling short of some audacious goals, Mr. Scaringe and Rivian have spent a decade fine-tuning their designs.
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Mr. Scaringe founded Mainstream Motors, the business that would later become Rivian, in 2009 after completing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His timing was odd to say the least — the financial crisis had made investors skittish, and the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler did not bode well for an automotive start-up.
Family and friends provided the initial funding, and Mr. Scaringe and his father both took out second mortgages to raise money.
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“Fortunately, my personality is one that I never lost confidence I could do it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I always knew how I was going to do it.”
Much like what he is building, Mr. Scaringe is in constant motion, splitting his time between the company’s engineering headquarters in Plymouth, the factory in Normal and two other offices in Irvine and San Jose in California.
That leaves little time for him to spend with his wife and three sons, the oldest of whom is 3. “Rivian is 100 percent minus family,” Mr. Scaringe said, estimating that his wife and children get 5 percent of his time.
Rivian is the culmination of a lifelong dream. Mr. Scaringe grew up rebuilding vintage Porsches under the tutelage of a neighbor, and he knew he wanted to start a car company when he was 18.
“It became the plan when I started college,” he said. “Then I started putting the pieces together.”
At M.I.T., Mr. Scaringe made his ambitions clear, recalled Dan Roos, a retired engineering professor who served as the director of the university’s Center for Transportation Studies.
“He said, ‘I’m going to start an auto company,’” Mr. Roos said. “When you hear a student say that, it’s like saying, ‘I’m going to change the world.’ It’s nice but highly unlikely. But he was very determined about what he was going to do.”
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As different as Mr. Scaringe is from Mr. Musk, the two share some qualities. Mr. Scaringe is a control freak who weighs in on everything from the color of bathroom tiles to the lighting in the assembly plant.
Rivian employees describe Mr. Scaringe in worshipful, almost mystical tones, echoing the kind of adoration that Mr. Musk inspires. Designers laud his sophisticated design sensibilities. Brand experts cite his marketing know-how.
“I’ve spent years trying to decode R.J. and predict what he wants,” said Larry Parker, creative director at Rivian. “He’s moving so fast. Sometimes we don’t know where he is going. To keep up with R.J. is not easy.”
Jeff Hammoud, Rivian’s head of design, said Mr. Scaringe was the reason he was willing to leave his job as the top designer at Jeep. “It’s amazing how much he is able to absorb,” Mr. Hammoud said.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 2, 2019, and has the title “Meet the Man Quietly Building the Tesla of Trucks, With Jeff Bezos Aboard.”)