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Business and Economy
WGLT, an NPR station in central Illinois, is following every move at the Rivian manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle startup has gone from stealth mode to big-time player in the auto world, attracting attention (and big money) from companies like Ford and Amazon.

Investor Joins Rivian As Electric Automaker Staffs Up

Mike Miletich
Rivian has been relatively quiet since January, when it closed its $2 million purchase of the former Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing plant in Normal.

Electric-vehicle maker Rivian said Tuesday it has brought on a new major investor as it nears the one-year anniversary of moving into the former Mitsubishi manufacturing plant.

Sumitomo Corp., a Japanese company with a U.S. operation based in New York, has made an unspecified “strategic investment” in Rivian, the companies announced. Sumitomo touts itself as “an experienced leader in promoting advances in automobile manufacturing” that “has provided technical innovations to aid U.S. enterprises like Ford, GM and Navistar.”

“We are honored and excited to have Sumitomo as a strategic investor,” RJ Scaringe, Rivian founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Their global reach, expertise, and network in the automotive sector will help us in executing our vision. This investment reflects the result of our team's hard work in developing our technology and products.” 

Scaringe has “assembled an incredible team that has made significant progress towards advancing Rivian's exciting vision,” Sumitomo’s Sam Kato said in a statement. Sumitomo will "support Rivian’s business development through its network in North America and its supplier relationship where Sumitomo has deep business experience and relationships across the world," Sumitomo said in a statement.

“Rivian's technology and products are well-positioned to advance these future shifts in personal transportation, and we look forward to backing their success,” said Kato, the senior vice president and general manager of the company’s auto and aerospace group.

Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

Rivian has been relatively quiet since January, when it closed the $2 million purchase of the former Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing plant in Normal. Rivian plans to introduce its first electric vehicle, a five-passenger truck, in 2020, followed by a seven-passenger sport utility vehicle. Its vehicles are expected to be self-driving. Sumitomo said Rivian will "propose a new lifestyle provided by car-sharing" electric vehicles.

Rivian is set to receive $49.5 million in state tax credits over 10 years if it hires 1,000 people by 2024. That’s in addition to the five-year property tax break approved last December by Unit 5, the Normal Town Council, and other taxing bodies. The Town of Normal also agreed to a $1 million grant tied to Rivian’s performance.

Mitsubishi shut down production at the plant in 2015. Rivian is expected to invest $175 million in the plant over eight years.

The Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, which negotiated the incentives that landed Rivian, praised Tuesday's Sumitomo announcement.

"We see it as a vote of confidence for Rivian," said Zach Dietmeier, spokesperson for the EDC. "This is a really exciting investment opportunity, both from the knowledge that Sumitomo brings to the table, as well as partnerships down the line. It brings credibility to what Rivian is doing."

While the EDC has not yet formally reported Rivian's year-end progress to local taxing bodies, Dietmeier said the company is "meeting or exceeding its targeted commitments for 2017." Dietmeier noted the company's community involvement this year, including hosting the Ecology Action Center's Household Hazardous Waste collection and the EDC's BN Beyond event.

It's unclear how many Normal employees Rivian has today. Its property-tax break agreement doesn't require a minimum full-time employee count (35) until Dec. 31, 2018. Rivian spokesperson Samantha Flynn declined to comment late Tuesday on how many employees it's hired in Normal, or to describe the Rivian-Sumitomo partnership in greater detail.

"Rivian looks forward to updating (Bloomington-Normal) media on progress in the New Year," Flynn said.

But Rivian appears to be staffing up. The company recently hired two executives from McLaren Automotive and Nike, AdaptBN reported Tuesday. The company is hiring for manufacturing positions in Normal, as well as IT and engineering positions in Michigan and California. While hardly a scientific measure, LinkedIn shows that 173 people have identified themselves as employees of Rivian. Sumitomo says Rivian has 250 employees.

"It's so exciting to a see company that really is a startup. This is a technology startup. They had fewer than 200 employees coming in at the start of the year. It's important to be patient throughout this whole process. We're ally at the forefront of seeing the fruits of their labor come into being."

Rivian's job postings hint that progress is being made in Normal. Portland-based Jama Software also recently touted Rivian as a new client for its product-development platform.

“The development of our first set of products is well underway, with the alpha prototypes complete and testing in process,” Rivian said.

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