Scaringe founded Rivian in mid-2009 — "arguably the worst time in the world to start a car company," he said. The global economic recession and industry crisis were in full bloom. He started the venture shortly after finishing graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he focused on automotive engineering.
MIT has been a center for auto industry research since the 1980s. Scaringe's research allowed him to peek inside carmakers' operations, and MIT's academic network helped him secure investors and advisers such as Shook and other Rivian board members. The group includes Antony Sheriff, former McLaren Automotive managing director, and former Chrysler designer Tom Gale.
Those three board members were associated with an early-1990s auto industry phenomenon — a research project and book titled The Machine That Changed the World. The 1990 book awoke U.S. manufacturers to the efficiency of the standard operating system of the Japanese auto industry — in particular the Toyota Production System.
"TPS," as it is popularly known, offered a holistic approach of identifying and eliminating waste in product development, factory lines and their supply chains, and organizing companies around efficient daily routines.
It sounds obvious today, but in the 1990s the concept ignited a fury of excitement at companies all over the world, from General Motors to Daimler. Companies adopted TPS, but typically dropped "Toyota" from its name, referring to the new efforts instead as simply "lean" — a euphemism coined by the MIT team.
For Scaringe and Rivian, the lean mindset took hold in 2011 when the venture scrubbed its previous plan to produce a 2-by-2 electric coupe in order to pursue a new strategy focused on high-end, outdoor utility vehicles.
"We decided to focus on the aspirational side," Scaringe said. "A brand that can transcend the shifts away from ownership and steering wheels."
The company spent several years mapping the landscape of future cars, opting to move away from the performance vehicle space and into luxury utility where they envision less competition. In the next five years, Rivian will introduce at least four vehicles in that segment.
"Everyone wants to be lean from the start," Shook said. "They're using these techniques to prove that their product has a good fit with customers."
Scaringe also instituted a company culture that encouraged cross-department communication — for example, by bringing catered lunches into the office.
"We've structurally arranged ourselves in a way that removes the things that inhibit innovation," Scaringe said.