Preparation for the production of 100,000 electric vans for US retail giant Amazon by Michigan-based EV maker Rivian is under way at a 250,000 square metre plant previously owned by Mitsubishi.
With 130 staff already on site, old equipment left by Mitsubishi has been demolished ready for re-tooling, as Rivian prepares to go head on into full scale production of the massive order taken from Amazon it announced in September.
The EV maker visited locals at an event in Normal, Illinois where the factory is located, showing off the new blue R1T electric pickup (ute).
There are many things we love about Normal, IL — home to our manufacturing plant — but our favorite is the people. A big thank you to the town for the support and to everyone who came out to see our Electric Adventure Vehicles. https://t.co/wa68ntcggs#AdventurousForever pic.twitter.com/e42IY3EDl7
— Rivian (@Rivian) October 14, 2019
In an interview that took place shortly after the event, Rivian’s VP of manufacturing Matt Tall described the goings on at the factory which will be the site of manufacture for the 100,000 delivery vans as well as the hotly anticipated R1T electric ute and R1S SUV.
Talking with local radio station WGLT, Tall said that the order from Amazon is demanding a huge scale up in production capacity from the company’s original plans to make the electric ute and SUV.
Our team in Normal, IL took a break yesterday to check out the new blue. Tomorrow, we're visiting with the whole town. Look forward to meeting everyone on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Uptown Circle from 1-4pm. #teamrivian #adventurousforever pic.twitter.com/Dul2F9IEkA
— Rivian (@Rivian) October 12, 2019
“It makes the scale a lot grander. So you have to plan ahead. Everything is careful planning in the auto industry,” he said.
“Obviously, building 100,000 Amazon vehicles brings a different dynamic because of the size…the sheer size of the vehicle is significantly larger than trucks.”
Rivian’s success will depend entirely on this careful planning.
With electric vehicle startups and industry giants alike starting to fall by the wayside – take electric appliance giant Dyson’s pull out of a multi-billion EV plan last Friday, and now the bankruptcy of Faraday Futures, it is becoming clear that a profitable future for new carmakers is not an easy thing to achieve.
So far, Tesla is the only non-legacy carmaker to successfully go into volume production of electric cars, with profitable quarters still something it is working hard to achieve.
While Tesla grew off the back of a series of successes (and challenges) including CEO and co-founder Musk’s previous ventures Zip2 and X.com (which later morphed into PayPal), it’s unarguably been a long slog.
Rivian have the advantage of considerable backing, having cut deals with Amazon, Ford and Cox Automotive to bring in over $A2 billion in funding to help it get on the proverbial road.
But this doesn’t mean the Michigan startup is taking things in a lackadaisical manner.
In addition to manufacturing the vehicle bodies at the plant, the company will also make batteries to power its electric vehicles – and it is this section of the plant is the closest to being ready to roll, says Tall.
“Battery is progressing really well. It’s still a wide open space, but it’s the first part of the facility that’s ready in addition to stamping. And so probably in December, January timeframe, we’ll be installing all of the battery equipment,” Tall told WLTG.
While the attention to detail in retooling the factory in readiness for production is all-important, Tall added that it will be the manufacturing team that will be critical to Rivian’s success – and that he needs at least 500-600 people to create that team.
“It’s extremely important to have as many conscientious team members that we can, because they build the vehicle and they instill the quality….you only get one shot of building the brand, one shot at quality,” he said.
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.