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CEO of all-electric truck company Rivian on his goals and recent setbacks: "You don't start a car company immediately making money"

Behind the first all-electric truck company
Behind the first all-electric truck company, Rivian 05:29

By now you might have heard that electric vehicles are fast. But R.J. Scaringe, the founder and CEO of Rivian, is out to prove they can also be fierce.

He calls Rivian's all-electric SUV an adventure vehicle — something drivers could use to both tackle a trail and get their groceries.

"We wanted the vehicles to truly be capable of going anywhere," Scaringe told CBS News' senior environmental correspondent Ben Tracy during a recent test drive at the company's test track in central Illinois.

Rivian, which won the race to deliver the first all-electric pickup truck, is launching its SUV amid major questions about whether it can deliver on its ambitious goals.

When the company went public late last year, its stock surge briefly made it one of most valuable automakers in the world, worth more than General Motors and Ford. But the stock has plummeted, and the road for Rivian has been pretty rough lately.

Rivian Reveal Ahead Of The Los Angeles Auto Show
RJ Scaringe, founder and CEO of Rivian Automotive Inc., unveils the R1S electric SUV at AutoMobility LA ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 27, 2018.  Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's been plagued by chronic production delays due in part to a shortage of parts, including semiconductor chips. Its sprawling Illinois factory can produce 150,000 vehicles annually, but this year the company is expecting to roll just 25,000 off the assembly line. The wait to get one is now more than a year long.

The rise of electric vehicles, or EVs, comes as more Americans look to ditch the pump and go electric, partly due to soaring gas prices. Sales of EVs rose to 76% in the first quarter of this year, and market share for EVs doubled to 5.2%, according to Kelly Blue Book. 

Rivian's vehicles are not cheap — costing about $80,000 each — but they are unique. From the front, the truck looks like it drove off the screen of a Pixar movie. MotorTrend magazine named it 2022's Truck of the Year, raving that it redefines the genre. 

"It almost seems like you're trying to show people electric cars don't have to be these bubble things you drive around in," Tracy said to Scaringe during their test drive.

"All of that was intended to challenge existing expectations and to create products that were exciting in and of their own right, not just because they're electric," Scaringe replied.

The 39-year-old executive has been heralded as Tesla CEO Elon Musk's new nemesis. In return, Musk has openly questioned whether Rivian will survive. Scaringe brushed off Musk's criticism.

"You don't start a car company immediately making money," he said. "I think he's maybe forgetting some of the things that Tesla themselves went through. But I take it as him hopefully just trying to be constructive and helpful."

What's been helpful is the billions in cash Rivian is sitting on, thanks largely to Amazon, one of Rivian's biggest shareholders. Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos also gave Rivian a huge boost in 2019 when he placed an order for 100,000 electric delivery trucks.

The trucks are part of Amazon's plan to go carbon neutral by 2040. In the U.S., transportation and the pollution from gas-powered vehicles is the biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

Scaringe says climate change is the reason he founded Rivian in 2009 as he wrestled with his two competing loves — cars and the great outdoors, especially road trips with his family.

"That sort of led to me being, frankly, really bummed out just that these things I loved were simultaneously the root of so many issues," he said. "The reason Rivian exists is precisely for that challenge."

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