Michigan-based electric vehicle startup Rivian is gathering force, with a plan to launch onto the electric car market with a production run that could see the company make as many 40,000 electric utes and SUVs in its first year.
The electric car startup first broke out of a secretive development phase when it wooed crowds at the 2018 LA Auto Show, revealing not one but two high-spec’d electric vehicles, the R1S SUV and R1T pickup (or rather, ute in Australia) aimed at the adventure market.
Headed by MIT mechanical engineering graduate RJ Scaringe, Rivian has its eye on the potentially extremely lucrative SUV and pickup market.
First funded by Saudi and Japanese investors, it has since garnered support from auto and retail giants Ford and Amazon in deals that will bring the startup almost $A1.7 billion in funding.
The interest in Rivian’s electric SUV and ute are huge; the company reports that it has already received orders in the tens of thousands from potential buyers who have deposited $US1,000 ($A1,420) each.
In a recent and rare interview with the New York Times, Scaringe hinted that Rivian’s initial production run could be as much as 40,000 for the first year.
To put that in perspective, Tesla did not achieve a 12-month run in excess of 40,000 until Q3 2015, a good three years after the release of the Model S.
To do it, it appears that Rivian RJ Scaringe is surrounding himself with the best and brightest he can convince to join him.
Although the electric car startup has not yet made one production vehicle, reports are that the company now has 750 employees, doubling in size since last northern hemisphere spring.
A review of staff appointments by The Verge indicates that dozens of the new employees hark from competitors including Tesla, Ford and McLaren, as well as around 50 employees from the practically defunct Faraday Future.
On top of these new hires, Rivian has also appointed Mike Bell, a former Apple VP who played a key role in creating the original iPhone, as its first chief technology officer.
The company’s executive team is particularly well-heeled in terms of automotive credentials.
Rivian’s head of design, Jeff Hammoud, came from Jeep, while director of engineering and programs Mark Vinnels, hails from McLaren and Lotus. Chief of strategy Jiten Behl formerly worked as a senior leader in German consultancy firm Roland Berger’s automotive arm, while financial chief Ryan Green came across from Harley Davidson.
While the company still has some considerable challenges ahead of it – like creating assembly lines to deal with high volume runs, something that Tesla struggled with throughout 2017 and 2018 – it has already purchased an old Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois as a production site.
This will likely require a much more substantial investment, in the billions, analysts predict.
The company has 18 months in which to meet these challenges before it first production run begins by the end of 2020.
But it’s not just about selling cars, Scaringe told the New York Times – like Tesla CEO and founder Musk, Scaringe is driven by a desire to change the world for the better by disrupting the fossil fuel industry.
To do that, he wants to dispel myths that surround EVs – many of which will resonate in Australia, which has been noted as a key market for Rivian by both Scaringe and chief engineer Brian Gase.
“We have a number of untruths — a truck can’t be electric, an electric car can’t go off road, it can’t get dirty, it can’t tow, and truck buyers don’t want something that’s environmentally friendly,” he said.
“These things are fundamentally wrong. Electrification and technology can create a truck that’s incredibly capable and fun to drive.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.