Building its first new car is a challenge for any automotive startup.
Irvine-based Rivian is trying to launch three at once — an electric pickup, an electric sport utility vehicle and an electric Amazon delivery van.
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“It’s a big deal for EV startups to get off the ground,” Sam Fiorani, vice president of AutoForcast Solutions, told Bloomberg News in March. “But Rivian takes on the added complexity of having three models come out in the same year.”
Fiorani noted that America has had just one successful auto manufacturing startup since World War II: Tesla.
Despite production delays, some experts Amazon, Ford, T. Roe Price is calling Rivian the “Tesla of trucks” because of the huge amount of financial backing and technical advice it receives from the likes of Fidelity and Cox Automotive.
With the closing of its latest $2.5 billion private funding round on July 23, Rivian announced that it has raised $10.5 billion since 2019. Bloomberg earlier this year estimated the company’s value at around $28 billion.
Rivian brands its EVs as “adventure products,” designed for outdoor enthusiasts who crave a vehicle that drives well both on and off the road. Air compressors are standard, and for a little extra, customers can get a camp stove with pickup that slides out of a hidden storage compartment called a “gear tunnel.”
Production of its R1T pickup truck was postponed from late 2020 to June, then to July and is now planned for September.
The launch version has a starting price of $73,000, not counting the discounts that buyers get from federal and state tax credits. Production of the seven-seat SUV, the R1S, is planned to begin a month or two after the truck, with a starting price of $75,500 before tax exemption. The company says that both vehicles have a range of about 300 miles from fully charged and go from zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds.
Here are questions and answers about Rivian, based on news reports, company posts, and a previous interview with Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaring.
Q: How long has Rivian been around?
a: RJ Scaringe, 38, founded the company in 2009 in his home state of Florida, shortly after completing his Ph. in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Originally under the name Evra Motors, Scaring rebranded its firm as Rivian Automotive in 2011. The name comes, in part, from Melbourne’s hometown, Fla. Pays homage to the Indian River Lagoon, he wrote.
Rivian spent the next seven years “in stealth mode” designing its new vehicles until they were unveiled at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Q: Who is RJ Scaringe?
a: As Forbes reports, the Florida native first dreamed of starting his own car company when he was in high school.
He earned his doctorate at MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab. While there, Forbes reported, he became disillusioned with the idea of building another gas-powered car.
During a 2020 interview with the Lean Enterprise Institute, Scaring said that civilization’s addiction to fossil fuels has reached “an inflection point.”
“The fossil fuels we use today were created over the course of about 300 million years. We’ve used about half of it in 100 years. Therefore, it’s no debate whether we should stop our dependence on fossil fuels.” have to do,” he said.
“The other wrinkle in this is the effects of burning fossil fuels. The longer we wait to make the transition, the greater the damage to the planet and air quality. Essentially, what we are doing is taking away carbon that is buried in the Earth.” … we see a great urgency to solve it, and it’s not an easy problem to solve.”
At Rivian, Scaringe said, “We’re creating something that’s meaningful. We’re building something that matters to the children of our children’s children.”
Q: How fast is Rivian growing?
a: A company spokesperson said the company grew from 600 employees to more than 7,000 at the end of 2018, “and is growing every week.” Its more than 1,400 employees are located in Southern California.
Q: Where are the Rivian vehicles being made?
a: The company paid $16 million in 2017 for a 3.3-million-square-foot former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill., about 38 miles east of Peoria.
A spokesperson for the company said the Rivian plant currently has more than 2,200 employees and is expected to have 3,000 by the beginning of 2022.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the company also has 1,000 robots to help build the vehicle. Scaring has posted several tweets showing robots painting vehicles and submerging chassis in a chemical bath.
Q: How many vehicles does Rivian plan to build each year?
a: According to Forbes, Rivian is expected to deliver 20,000 units in its first year and 40,000 units in its second year. The company would not reveal how many vehicles have been pre-ordered.
Q: Rivian has been around for 12 years but hasn’t sold a single vehicle yet. What has it been doing for all these years?
a: To build an auto company from scratch, Scaring told the Lean Enterprise Institute, “there are so many items that you need at the same time or in parallel, all of which are difficult.”
You need billions of dollars, thousands of engineers, about 250 suppliers, a manufacturing plant and a team, he said.
“I didn’t have any of them,” he said. “No team, no money, no plants, no suppliers, no facilities.”
The challenge was convincing people to give them startup capital when they had nothing to show they could build EVs, he said. It took two years to develop the initial product plan. He then set out to show supporters that he had a product that was technically viable and for which there was a market.
“Today, it’s easy to see that there is a market (for EVs),” Scaring said. “But eight, nine years ago, for an electric pickup truck,[it]led to some reassurance.”
Q: Is production stopping?
a: In a letter to customers last month, Scaring blamed the delay on the “widespread effects of the pandemic.”
“Everything from facility manufacturing to equipment installation, vehicle component supply (especially semiconductors) has been affected by the pandemic,” he wrote. “Beyond these unforeseen challenges, launching three new vehicles while setting up a multi-vehicle manufacturing plant is a complex orchestra of coordinated and interconnected activities where small issues can translate into ramp delays.”
Scaring said Rivian’s two production lines have completed hundreds of vehicles for testing purposes, but is holding off on sales to ensure “the quality and robustness of our launch products.”
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Ed Ludlow last November, Scaring said he expects supply constraints to hamper production until 2023.
“The challenge of starting a production system,” he told Ludlow, “is managing the complexity.”
- Chief Executive Officer: RJ Scaringe, 38, of Laguna Beach
- Headquarters: Irvine
- Establishment date: 2009
- Employees: More than 7,000 in Southern California, more than 1,400
- Factory Location: General, Ill.
- Products: Electric Pickup, SUV and Amazon Delivery Van