Via Wired EV UPSTART RIVIAN IS HELPING TO DRIVE A NEW AUTO TECH BOOM IN THE MID-1880S, Karl Benz married a gas engine he had developed to a modified bicycle platform. When he released the contraption—the world's first commercially viable automobile—he also licensed his engine to other tinkerers, who could build their cars atop it. This would help kick off an explosion of carmakers. Benz's rival Daimler licensed its engines to Panhard et Levassor; across the pond, Dodge supplied engines and transmissions to the maker of the Oldsmobile. By the mid-20th century, upwards of 5,000 car brands had emerged. Some of them made whole vehicles like Benz; others sold cars built from a panoply of other companies' parts. Slowly, consolidation whittled that number down to the handful of automakers we now know. Today we are in something of a new Benzian era. Thanks to near-simultaneous technological revolutions in electrification, automation, and connectivity, emerging companies are threatening to upend transportation for the first time in more than a century. Take Rivian. The company was founded in Florida by R. J. Scaringe in 2009 as Mainstream Motors—initially to build hybrid cars capable of driving 60 miles per gallon. But it pivoted in 2011 to electric, changed its name, and a few years later relocated to Michigan. Today Scaringe's business model includes its own Benzian throwback. Rivian plans to sell its all-electric powertrain—the “skateboard”—to other automakers. But also to build pickup trucks aimed at a luxury market and, eventually, to sell a subscription-based ownership model in which autonomous, internet-connected trucks and SUVs deliver themselves to customers on demand. Today Rivian's 750 employees work in five different locations—designing batteries in Irvine, California, programming car brains in Silicon Valley, or engineering car bodies in the UK. The company debuted its first two all-electric models, a full-size truck and a luxury SUV, at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show. Rivian is one of hundreds of new—and old—companies that are part of the nouveau automotive supply chain. Some make cars head to toe, others build battery-powered drivetrains or environment-sensing laser apparatuses. Still others make artificially intelligent computer brains. According to Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, “the fact that all three of these new technologies are impacting the market at the same time is leading this scramble by various players, at various sizes, to find their niche.” In January, Reuters forecast that the industry, led by companies like Volkswagen, will invest $300 billion in EV technology over the next five to 10 years. “What's really important to track is how many partnerships the major incumbents are doing with nontraditional automotive companies,” Brauer says. In 2016 GM scooped up autonomous vehicle company Cruise, less than two years after the latter had graduated from Y Combinator's startup school. In 2017, Toyota launched a venture capital arm to invest in technologies like AI, robotics, and data and cloud capabilities. In 2018, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance laid out up to $1 billion to fund a broad portfolio of EV, automation, and vehicle connectivity startups. Tech giants like Alphabet, Uber, and Cisco also have their own car-of-the-future operations. There's Apple's mysterious Project Titan, which has reportedly poached employees from Tesla, Fiat Chrysler, and Mercedes-Benz. And in February, Amazon invested $700 million in Rivian. Rumors immediately started to fly that the little company could give Tesla a run as the industry's favorite upstart. With Tesla, Nissan, and most other major car companies getting into low-price, long-range electric cars, Rivian saw an opening: No one was making luxury electric trucks. The pickup will cost an eye-popping $69,000 (more than double a base Ford F-150). And there are the long-term strategies, including that fleet of subscription-based self-driving pickups. The idea is to find a winning combination of electrification, connectivity, and automation that will help the company finish on top when the industry races, again, toward consolidation.