Startups tend make a lot of bold predictions followed by months, or even years, of lackluster performance. Lots of them flame out and disappear without ever producing a single product. Rivian is an Illinois-based startup that is following an alternate path. It is quietly going about its business of building a 5-passenger electric pickup truck called the A1T and a 7-passenger electric SUV called the A1C. Both vehicles will use the same basic chassis featuring a battery pack in the middle and an electric motor at each end.
Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe, who has a doctorate degree from MIT, recently invited Engadget to the factory in Normal, Illinois, for a preview. He says the A1C will be a real sport utility vehicle, unlike the wimpy Tesla Model X, which he calls the “least capable SUV ever made.” It sits too low to the ground for serious off roading and the iconic falcon wing doors can’t be opened fully in most suburban garages. (Tesla fans — please address your outrage to Scaringe, not me.)
Off Road Capable And Then Some
No such issues with the Rivian vehicles, which Scaringe says will have up to 14 inches of ground clearance coupled with blistering acceleration and phenomenal cornering ability. Rivian is targeting Ford F-150, Land Rover, and Porsche Cayenne customers. The vehicles are expected to list for around $50,000, with top of the line versions going for more than $90,000. Buyers will have a choice of an 80 kWh battery good for around 200 miles of range or a larger battery with a range of 450 miles.
Engadget was prohibited from taking photographs during its factory tour, but says the vehicles are impressive with bold, brawny styling that will be more Hummer than Honda. Scaringe mentions the ability to climb a 100% (45º) grade and handle standing water more than 30 inches deep. These will be some serious off road machines!
Not So Normal In Normal, Illinois
Production will take place at the former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois, which Rivian bought in 2017 for $16 million. “It’s essentially a new plant. It was commissioned in 1990,” Scaringe says. “Mitsubishi did a great job keeping up with all of the equipment and invested massively in the early 2000’s, so the robotics are all in great shape. The paint shop is in great shape, the stamping operation is incredible. So it really is a unique facility, with millions of dollars of equipment sitting inside of it. We are really lucky we have found it!” Rivian purchased the contents of the factory in a separate transaction.
A Supplier As Well As A Manufacturer
Scaringe has a vision for his company that looks beyond being just another car maker. The chassis could be licensed to other companies to build their own cars around. But the big plans involve the Rivian AI controlled batteries, which he thinks could be ideal for companies like John Deere who don’t want to spend the money to develop their own battery technology. In fact, if Rivian became a Tier 1 supplier like Bosch, with its chassis and batteries powering everything from school buses to forklifts, that would be fine with him. “We’re going to be working very hard to get the battery module into as many things as we can,” he says.
Production is scheduled to begin in 2020. If Rivian can build a dealer network, get the factory running, and build a customer base by then, it will have succeeded where many before have failed.
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