The New Year got off to a rough start for Rivian, the startup slammed by investors nervous about slowing growth in EV sales. But the market is taking notice of the news that Rivian has poached DJ Novotny, the vice president of hardware engineering away from Apple. The move comes as the tech giant reportedly again delayed — by as much as four years — its secretive Apple Car program. More from Headlight.News.
The man who has played a critical role in the development of such iconic products as the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch will now be working on new battery-electric vehicles. But not for the Silicon Valley tech giant. DJ Novotny, a storied figure at Apple, has jumped ship to EV startup Rivian.
Sources indicate Novotny had grown increasingly frustrated by delays in another project he was leading, development of the long-delayed Apple Car. Known internally as Project Titan, it was expected to go into production about now but, as Headlight.News reported earlier this week, has been pushed back to no earlier than 2028.
It’s the latest in a number of high-profile hirings by the Irvine, California-based Rivian. Among others, it has poached executives from Apple, Amazon, Google and, also this week, from General Motors where new product communications chief Mikhael Farah spent much of his career.
Wall Street is watching
Novotny’s hiring puts a positive spin on things for Rivian after a tough start to the New Year. The EV maker outperformed its original forecast for 2023, producing 57,232 vehicles. It originally forecast a target of 54,000. But fourth-quarter deliveries were just 13,972, down 10.2% from the prior quarter, reflecting the ongoing slowdown of U.S. EV sales growth.
That triggered a quick sell-off, Rivian stock tumbling 10% the day the production and delivery numbers were announced. Since opening up 2024 at $21.59 a share, the automaker’s shares ended Monday at $16.12, a 25.34% decline.
That’s an even further plunge than many Rivian bears had been forecasting. “We think there could be downside to expectations around volume and gross margins,” Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner warned mid-month, pointing to questions about the company’s “capital needs, production ramp and profitability.”
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“Great products are what we do”
“Great products are what we do best and I have been so very lucky along the way to be part of so many amazing teams,” Novotney wrote in a memo seen first reported by Bloomberg. “Apple has been my life, but now is the time for me to move on and help bring to life a new set of products.”
He’s certainly shown that during a quarter-century career with Apple, working on – and in many cases leading development of – some of its most iconic products, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple Watch.
Novotny also worked on the secretive Apple Car program which was put in motion around 2014 and officially approved by CEO Tim Cook three years later. Since then, it has gone through a number of iterations and, on several occasions, reportedly come close to being abandoned, At one point, around the beginning of the decade, most of the team was either laid off or assigned to different projects within Apple, various sources told Headlight.News at the time.
The latest delays are believed to have played a factor in the engineering chief’s decision to leave Apple. Project Titan won’t go into production until at least 2028 and, even then, plans to make it capable of operating without a driver have been scrapped in favor of much more limited hands-free operation.
Rivian targets talent
Novotny is just one of several high-level officials who’ve left Apple of late. The list also includes Steve Hoteling, who left his position late last year as director of hardware technologies. And Tang Tan, who headed design for both the iPhone and Apple Watch, is leaving in February.
On the other hand, Rivian is grabbing talent wherever it can find it. This week also brought the announcement that GM’s Farah will join the EV maker as head of product communications. Last June, Rivian lured Mustapha El Akkari away from arch-rival Tesla, where he was serving as head of raw materials purchasing. Considering Rivian’s earlier supply chain problems, that was seen as a major hire. And Kjell Gruner, the former Porsche Cars North America chief executive, joined the Rivian C-suite last September.
The new team members come on at a critical time for Rivian. The company plans to expand a line-up that currently consists of just two products: the R1T pickup and R1S sport-utility vehicle. It’s getting ready to set up a 16 million-square-foot factory about an hour east of Atlanta that will build the smaller R2 family of EVs.
“As we build a strong brand, I look forward to chart paths into new markets, build new partnerships and customer experiences and engage with our community while constantly embracing a clear and consistent strategy for the future,” Gruner said after he came onboard.
The auto industry, as a whole, faces some serious questions as demand for EVs settles back. Rivian is betting heavily that its new exec team can help push it through the challenges it’s going to face.