Rivian is validating early builds of three key electric vehicles launching in the second half of this year, even as CEO RJ Scaringe works on an expanded portfolio. The electric vehicle startup showed how serious it was about mass production when it bought an assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, from Mitsubishi in 2017, and under Scaringe, Rivian didn’t just retool the 2.6-million-square-foot plant, but expanded it by a further 800,000 square feet. Even that might not be enough to handle his future plans.
First Up: Rivian R1T Electric Pickup in June
Pilot versions of the 2021 R1T five-passenger full-size electric pickup are being built for validation and testing in the real world in preparation for a June launch of vehicles earmarked for customers. It is a slight delay from pre-COVID plans to start production in December 2020.
The launch of the R1S three-row electric SUV will follow in August. The vehicles had impressive benchmarks: the Porsche Cayenne for on-road dynamics, Jeep Wrangler and Land Rovers for off-road capability, and Audi for quality. Both vehicles are nicely loaded with driver-assist technology as well as connectivity for robust health diagnostics to assess and prevent problems and hopefully fix any with over-the-air updates.
Already Rivian has a backlog of orders to fill. A configurator went live in November. Launch Editions sold out quickly. Scaringe doesn’t want to say how many orders have been taken, but he says its’s enough that some customers will have to wait for production to catch up to demand.
Launch Green Popular Color for Rivians
Scaringe does share some interesting tidbits on how consumers are configuring vehicles. The Launch Green exterior color is proving popular. White and silver are chosen often for both the truck and SUV, but there are differences when it comes to brighter colors like Rivian Blue (Scaringe’s favorite) and Compass Yellow. “Trucks tend to be a little bit wilder on the colors,” he says. SUV customers are a bit more conservative.
While Rivian is busy with three vehicles (the R1T, R1S, and Rivian Amazon Prime van) launching within a six-month span, Scaringe is also focused on the bigger picture.
“I started Rivian to have impact, and to have impact we need a broad portfolio of vehicles,” he said in an interview with MotorTrend. “What we will be building over the next five years extends well beyond what we are looking at today.”
Rivian R1 Family to Be Followed by R2, R3
The R1 family of vehicles comprises the halo products, but lower-priced models are being planned. Scaringe says there’s a whole slew of products to follow and the naming convention will continue, which means next up would be an R2 series of at least two smaller electric vehicles to coincide with the smaller platform they will ride on, then another platform for R3.
Rivian has not shown any of the future products, but the company is oriented to adventure-type trucks and SUVs. Executing means additional production capacity, different form factors, and different price points and markets, Scaringe says. It is reasonable to assume similar body styles but in different sizes.
Rivian’s Electric Delivery Van for Amazon Prime
Rivian has also been working with Amazon to build large electric delivery vans for Prime. Developed specifically for Amazon, a small fleet of Prime vans is on the road now, testing deliveries to customers and gathering feedback. In late fall, it will mushroom to a large fleet as Rivian ramps up volume.
The range of 150 miles is tailored to Amazon’s use cycle to optimize the size, weight, and cost of the commercial vehicle. Rivian has three sizes of batteries, but Amazon is starting with just one of them.
Rivian Workforce Keeps Growing
Rivian has more than 3,600 employees now and is adding about 100 per week. Many are at the Normal plant, which continues to set up equipment and run pre-production vehicles. Some parts of the plant work around the clock. The plan is to start with one shift making production vehicles and quickly add a second shift.
The layout of the plant has separate lines for the Rivian consumer vehicles and the Amazon commercial vehicles.
Two Assembly Plants in One
Each assembly line handles a different platform or structural skateboard. “It’s like two plants in one,” Scaringe said. “There is a consumer vehicle line where we are building the structural skateboard, assembling the battery, chassis, drivetrain into that skateboard for our consumer vehicles, initially just the trucks, the R1T and R1S.”
There is a separate line for commercial vehicles starting with the large Prime van. Again, Rivian builds the structure for the skateboard (which is steel rather than the R1’s aluminum), then assembles the battery pack, chassis, drivetrain, and suspension, and then they head down their own assembly line.
All vehicles share a common stamping plant with six large presses and a common paint shop and giant tanks for the e-coating process that dips vehicle bodies to prevent corrosion. It’s an amazing sight to see large vans somersault through it; Rivian had to dig a deep pit to fit the 30-foot vans.
Aggressive Amazon Prime Van Rollout
The Prime van is in a sprint to full-scale production to place vehicles in 15 major markets this year, says Ross Rachey, director of Amazon’s global fleet and products, who worked with Rivian. The goal in 2022 is to have electric vans everywhere Amazon has gas vehicles.
The deal with Rivian is different from electric vehicles Amazon has used in the past, in that the new van is capable of covering Amazon’s entire route.
“Rivian is our big dance partner when it comes to electric vans,” Rachey said. Amazon has placed an order for 100,000 vans, and Rachey says success is crucial given the size of the contract. The goal is to get at least 10,000 units on the road in 2022 and push to get the rest out as fast as possible. Amazon has been building charging stations on its properties in preparation.
Rivian Welcomes Competition
“We want to see competition,” Rachey said. Scaringe agrees, saying, “From my kids’, kids’, kids’ perspective, we as a planet need to electrify as fast as possible. It’s important the entire industry start to make this shift. We need to replace 100 million cars a year, about 1.5 billion on the plant, as quickly as possible. it’s good to see others coming in. The size of the pie is enormous.”
Future Plans With Ford Unknown
The relationship between Ford and Rivian hasn’t ended, but there have been no announcements of future products coming. Scaringe isn’t divulging any secrets about what his company will do with Ford in the future. “We have a very good relationship with Ford, but we have not yet announced anything together.”
Losing production of the Lincoln did not hurt Rivian, which expects to need additional capacity in the future. “The breadth of product portfolio we are going to be building over the next five years will require a lot of production capacity,” Scaringe said. “When I say breadth, that is not just in terms of volume, but also the number of different kinds of vehicles. Normal has been an outstanding platform for us; it is what we will launch with for R1 and the Amazon program, but that serves purely as a foundation for future production lines and future production.”
Rivian Direct Sales and Charging Network
Rivian will follow the Tesla model of direct sales to customers, which most states allow. Rivian is lobbying to change policies in states where franchise laws prohibit direct sales to protect the dealership model. Even in those states, there are ways to get vehicles to customers. You still see Teslas in Michigan and Texas, Scaringe says. It is just less efficient to get vehicles to customers.
The other area of growth is charging stations. Rivian wants to develop the Rivian Adventure Network of chargers to connect every dot on the map. Building a network of that size will take time, so Rivian is concentrating on the highest traffic corridors first. Exact locations will become public in the coming months. Hundreds are planned over time.