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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.

Rivian To Open Factory Store In Normal

Scaringe speaks
Ryan Denham
Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe speaks Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, at the EDC's Community Leaders dinner in Bloomington.

Bloomington-Normal residents won’t have to wait very long after the LA Auto Show to see Rivian’s first two vehicles firsthand—or to shop for one.

Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe said Tuesday that his electric-vehicle startup will launch retail centers in 20 different markets, including a factory store in Normal, in its first year of sales. Rivian plans to expand to 100 retail locations within seven years, Scaringe said.

Rivian’s all-electric pickup and SUV launch vehicles—both shrouded in secrecy—will debut in late November at the LA Auto Show. Pre-orders will then open, and the vehicles will go on a cross-country tour that will include a stop in Normal, Scaringe said during the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council’s Community Leaders dinner.

"There's a community here that has a passion and an energy for doing something special."

Who gets the first one? Scaringe said it would be Rivian’s “largest shareholder,” who he didn’t identify. Rivian's investors include global companies like Sumitomo and Abdul Latif Jamee.

“I’m actually fairly far down on the list. Maybe in the first year I’ll get one,” Scaringe joked.

Scaringe shared a progress report on Rivian during a 30-minute Q-and-A at the Community Leaders dinner, moderated by Mike O’Grady from the EDC. Scaringe delivered the elevator pitch about Rivian’s future—one in which mobility doesn’t just get electrified but also, decades from now, more fully automated and is no longer owned like a commodity the way it is now.

Rivian now has 60 to 65 employees at its Normal manufacturing plant—the one it bought for $16 million after Mitsubishi shut it down. It has three other locations in California and Michigan. Rivian was required to have at least 35 employees in Normal by the end of 2018 to satisfy the requirements of the property tax breaks secured from local taxing bodies.

The two vehicles will launch in the second half of 2020, Scaringe said. Rivian is now reworking the plant’s equipment to meet its needs, he said. The old Mitsubishis and new Rivians don’t look anything alike, he said.

“With the stamping operation, the presses themselves are in beautiful condition. We’re in the process of setting those up to run and build parts not just for us, but other companies in the area. But all the dies that are specific to our product have to be built. Some of these dies—they’re giant tools—they take 52 weeks to build one tool,” Scaringe said.

Rivian will manufacture its battery packs in Normal. Scaringe said they will last 425 to 450 miles on a single charge—a key part of its “adventure” EV brand. The company has run a pilot battery line in California but is now working on creating the full version in Normal, Scaringe said.

“So we can produce battery packs essentially faster than anyone is currently producing them, which is important given the size of our battery pack,” Scaringe said.

Rivian is also exploring “second lives” for its used-up batteries after they can no longer be used in vehicles. Instead of a landfill, Scaringe said they could be repurposed for energy storage—an increasingly important need as the U.S. energy grid moves away from fossil fuels toward renewables.

So does Rivian think of itself as an automaker or a battery maker?

“We think even broader than that. We’d say we’re a technology company, along a multitude of different avenues. So connectivity, self-driving, battery system, the integration of the whole vehicle onto a platform. Batteries are a really key part of that,” Scaringe said.

Scaringe praised Bloomington-Normal community leaders for successfully luring Rivian into the shuttered Mitsubishi plant.

Unit 5 schools, the Town of Normal, and other taxing bodies agreed to a five-year, 100 percent property tax abatement if Rivian met certain hiring and plant investment thresholds. The Town of Normal also agreed to provide Rivian a $1 million grant once Rivian invests $20 million in the plant. Rivian is also on track to receive $49.5 million in state tax credits for the creation of 1,000 jobs over 10 years. If those 1,000 jobs do materialize, Rivian would be one of McLean County’s Top 10 largest employers.

Scaringe said Rivian initially visited the plant to look at possible equipment purchases, not to buy the actual plant.

“What we discovered here, well beyond this beautiful facility which has great equipment and was well-maintained, there’s a community here that has a passion and an energy for doing something special. What we met was an energy to do something cool, to do something impactful, to not only bring this plant to life, but to continue to grow and build what you guys have here,” he said.

Full segment from GLT.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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