2/7/2020 – UPDATE: Sometimes, in the course of covering a story, you realize you got it all wrong. That is the case with Rivian Automotive, a company that we savaged pretty aggressively back in 2016 (the full, and now clearly inaccurate story is posted below). Rivian is far from a “shady” car company these days…they have grown into a formidable and valuable force in the industry, with an impressive product, significant orders from major companies, and a valuation north of $5 billion.
Previous coverage about the company, which began in Florida more than a decade ago as “Avera Motors,” focused on what appeared to be a situation where the company’s founders received $2 million in grant money from the state of Florida, then promptly vanished from the state, leaving Florida taxpayers with nothing to show for the investment. The initial assumption was that the company founders fleeced Florida taxpayers and the company would never amount to anything. But those underlying assumptions were (obviously, now) fundamentally wrong. We’re leaving this story up for context, but we’re also posting a new story about the company to better reflect what has transpired over the last four years, which is nothing short of remarkable.
12/9/2016 – UPDATE: After receiving a surge in traffic based on Rivian Automotive’s announced plans to buy a manufacturing plant and bring 500-1000 jobs to Central Illinois, I am posting all files relevant to the incentive contract that Rivian’s founders received when they were in Florida. Those files are at the bottom of this post. Rivian has morphed several times over the past seven years, promising much but delivering little. Here’s hoping they deliver on their end of the bargain for the people of Illinois, my birth state (Moline).
In 2010, Florida state representative Debbie Mayfield cast a vote in favor of a $2 million grant to a Florida-based company called Avera Motors, promising to deliver “high mileage, ultra-efficient cars” that would be capable of achieving a fuel-efficiency rating of 60 miles-per-gallon. The company spent every last penny of the $2 million from Florida’s taxpayers: $1.1 million on salaries and “fringe benefits,” another $170,000 on contract services, and most of the rest of the money was reportedly spent on “equipment.”
And while many of Mayfield’s colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives – including Ritch Workman, her Republican primary opponent for Senate District 17 – also cast votes in favor of the $2 million grant, Mayfield’s ties to the mysterious company run much deeper. Two of the company’s three directors are named Robert Scaringe. One is now Mayfield’s husband, the other, her stepson. Sources confirm Mayfield and Scaringe had only started dating around the time she cast her vote, and so Mayfield would have been under no obligation to recuse herself from voting, nor would she be required to file a conflict of interest under the rules of the Florida House. They weren’t married until several years later.
But her close ties to the company, and obvious financial benefits she may have received from Florida’s taxpayers, raise legitimate questions about how those tax dollars were spent, including the amount of those funds her boyfriend-turned-husband received in salary and benefits. A report filed in late 2011 only listed total salaries paid (see box, left), and did not break them down by individual.
The company, Avera Motors, would later change its name – twice – ultimately becoming Rivian Automotive. In 2015, out of taxpayer funds and no closer to revealing a functioning automobile, the company abandoned Florida and moved to Michigan where it also received economic incentives to produce a wonder-car.
Rivian Automotive’s website doesn’t shed any additional light on the subject. But cached versions of the website as far back as 2011 promised jobs and a working car:
Rivian plans to begin commercial sale of its coupe model in late 2013, with additional models following in 2014. The company has approximately 30 employees as well as 20 contract personnel contributing to vehicle development and expects to create 1,200 new jobs by 2015.
Those jobs never materialized. Neither did the car. And now, even the company is gone from Florida.
And within weeks of the company’s move to Dearborn, Michigan last year, Mayfield loaned her Senate campaign $200,000, then in May and again in June of this year, took two additional personal loans from her family’s account for $100,000 each.
While it’s impossible to tell exactly where Mayfield’s loans came from – prior to her eight-year career in politics, she worked as a banker and later owned her own mortgage company – the $2 million taxpayer grant to her husband’s company has become fair game as voters decide if she’s worthy of serving even longer in the Florida Senate.
Mayfield’s campaign declined to comment for this story. But Erin Isaac, speaking on behalf of a political organization supporting Mayfield, pointed out that Ritch Workman, Mayfield’s primary opponent, cast a vote for the same grant, and the funds were then used by the governor for the grant project five years before Mayfield married Scaringe.
“That’s the disgusting hybrid of hypocrisy and misogyny we’ve come to expect from Ritch Workman and is exactly why he’s getting destroyed in the polls,” Isaac said.
But Mayfield’s website suggests she is running as a “principaled [sic] conservative” with “a record to prove she will always put you first.”
If that’s true, Representative Debbie Mayfield should have no problem answering questions and providing voters with an accounting of how her family’s company burned through $2 million in tax funding, then moved the company out-of-state, leaving Florida taxpayers holding the bag.
Florida budget line item granting $2 million to Avera Motors (PDF) – This document shows that Florida legislators voted to appropriate $2 million in exchange for an ultra-efficient car to be designed and built in Florida. Few in Florida ever saw a car, and clearly, it isn’t being built in Florida. But maybe Florida’s loss is Illinois’ gain.
Name Change from Avera to Rivian (PDF) – This document shows that Avera Motors later changed its name to Rivian Automotive.
Final report showing $1.1 million of grant paid in salary, no car delivered (PDF) – This document is the final report issued by an agency within the Florida state government stating that the terms of the grant were met by Rivian Automotive, even though the document also says that the terms were changed (by whose authority, it is unclear) at some point after state lawmakers voted on the appropriation.
In short, maybe Rivian Automotive really has a top-secret wonder-car. But so far, they bilked Florida out of 2 million bucks, failed to deliver what they promised here, moved to Michigan, promised to build something there in November 2015, and so far, there is no further news of Rivian delivering on those promises, either. Their website contains no information about what they have accomplished in the seven years since they first got a $2 million check from Florida, and now they have announced plans to buy a big plant in Central Illinois.
Maybe this time they’ll actually deliver. Good luck, my fellow Illini. Y’all deserve a break. Don’t forget to click on my sponsors! Merry Christmas to all.