Volkswagen’s Silicon Valley software hub is already packed with Rivian talent

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The blockbuster $5 billion deal between Volkswagen Group and Rivian is just a few days old. But it turns out that the VW Group was already leveraging Rivian’s software expertise months before the partnership was announced.

A TechCrunch review of LinkedIn data shows that Cariad, the struggling software arm of VW Group, has hired at least 23 top employees from startups in the past several months. Cariad’s chief software officer, chief product safety officer, two of its vice presidents and two lead engineers have all been hired from Rivian. Nearly all other hires have been from senior software roles at Rivian, many of them this year.

The appointments predate any deal between VW and Rivian. The joint venture, which will allow the German giant to leverage Rivian’s software and electrical architecture, is still being formed. The joint venture is not expected to be formalized until the fourth quarter — a detail that VW and Rivian spokespeople pointed out.

Still, the wave of new hires reflects VW’s — and, more specifically, Carriad’s — desire to tap into software talent. And these early hires could prove fruitful if the joint venture comes together.

The appointments bolster Cariad’s effort to build a Silicon Valley outpost in Mountain View, called the SDV Hub — an acronym that refers to the so-called software-defined vehicle that every automaker is chasing. The SDV Hub is ground zero for Cariad’s next-generation software architecture known as “Software 2.0.”

In the fall of 2023, Cariad hired Sanjay Lal, who most recently led the development of Rivian’s infotainment and next-generation middleware in the vehicle and cloud, to lead the establishment of the SDV Hub. The focus of the SDV Hub engineers in California – as well as some German-based staff under Lal – is on the Software 2.0 architecture, which is supposed to be an operating system designed for all VW Group brands.

The hub’s focus suggests that those same employees could eventually be part of a VW-Rivian joint venture. It should be noted that spokespeople for both Rivian and VW said it was too early to speculate.

“We are initially focused on ensuring a smooth start to our joint venture with Rivian and will comment on other matters at a later date,” VW said in an emailed statement.

While Cariad has more than 7,000 employees worldwide, its presence in North America is much smaller. According to LinkedIn, the SDV hub currently has about 230 employees. That means recent immigrants to Rivian now account for about 10% of Cariad’s employee base in the region.

These appointments come at a time when Cariat is undergoing restructuring after several years of struggle. Cariat, founded in 2020, was to speed up the development of advanced software and electrical architecture for Volkswagen Group’s big move into EVs. As Cariat grew in size, its problems grew. Its software 1.2 platform, which was being developed for Audi and Porsche cars, was originally scheduled to be completed in 2022. Constant delays and other internal problems led to several executive changes and is believed to be one of the reasons for the sacking of VW Group CEO Herbert Diess in 2022.

Cariad, under the direction of Peter Bosch, has successfully completed the 1.2 software architecture that will power the upcoming Porsche Macan EV. But it is the 2.0 architecture that aims to bring all the group’s brands into the same territory as Tesla.

Pulling talent from companies like Rivian has impacted the way Cariad has built out its workforce in North America over the past two years. Before the past few months, most of Cariad’s employees in the region came from elsewhere within the Volkswagen Group, either from automotive or software suppliers. A few came from tech companies, such as Cariad’s director of software engineering, who worked at Google for nearly a decade.

VW and Cariad aren’t the only companies looking to startups like Rivian to cultivate talent. As TechCrunch first reported earlier this month, Ford’s own secretive low-cost EV project Rivian has been attracting employees from Tesla, Lucid Motors, and even Apple’s defunct Project Titan.

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