Rivian has had its share of recalls lately, and snags in the scaling-up process that have led to some finicky, failure-prone parts. Like the powered tonneau covers on the R1T pickup that we discussed yesterday, for example. But CEO RJ Scaringe prides himself on dealing with those hiccups in a manner he considers quick, and he credits that agility with the company’s franchise-less service model.
Scaringe said as much in an interview at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference last week, using the recent recall of almost every Rivian built thus far for a potentially loose steering knuckle fastener as an example. From Automotive News:
“We made a decision on a Friday afternoon [Oct. 7] to make this move, and by Friday evening repairs were underway,” Scaringe said. “And we worked through a significant majority of the vehicles in the next 10 days.”
The actual fix, the Rivian founder said, only takes a few minutes to make sure a bolt is properly fastened.
Two previous Rivian recalls — for an improperly secured seat-belt anchor and an airbag issue — affected less than 700 vehicles combined.
Scaringe said the automaker was able to move quickly when the fastener issue arose thanks to a sales and service model that doesn’t rely on franchised dealers.
“For us, one of the most powerful things was having our direct-to-consumer model, where instead of having to go through third parties, or dealers, or different entities, we literally mobilized our whole service network to say ‘let’s go move through these vehicles really quickly,’ “ Scaringe said at the event.
He acknowledged that customers were rightfully frustrated by the recall. But Rivian also demonstrated “that we were trying to do the best possible job we could,” Scaringe said. “We didn’t sugarcoat it. We said we’re going to fix this.”
Indeed, there are plenty of reports from owners on Rivian Forums about mobile techs quickly dropping by, checking and tightening those fasteners, as well as customers enjoying quick service at Rivian’s service centers — those who happen to live close to one, anyway. There are currently 22 nationwide, across 17 states. But a fast response to manufacturing foul-ups only gets you so far, and the best service model is not shipping incomplete products in the first place.
Rivian being a young automaker, none of this is surprising, and I suppose you could make the argument that early adopters have to accept what they’re investing in. Same goes for those who placed preorders for base trucks, before those trims were canceled and buyers were told they’d have to cough up another $5,500. As long as those order waitlists stay long and owners are kept reasonably satisfied, all’s well.
But the particular example the CEO cited to TechCrunch was a serious defect that, luckily enough, could be resolved with a quick fix at a time when there aren’t that many Rivians on the road yet, in the grand scheme of things. It’s not hard to imagine a worst-case scenario — a widespread battery recall, for example — where the problem can’t be solved with the turn of a wrench. Weathering a storm like that will truly test the mettle — and budget — of Scaringe’s plan.