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Rivian Reveals 'Skateboard' Chassis At Michigan Conference

Rivian Automotive
The skateboard platform upon which Rivian's vehicles will sit. It was revealed Tuesday at a conference in Michigan.

The electric vehicle startup Rivian continued to emerge from its “extreme stealth” mode Tuesday, revealing its “skateboard” chassis and a timeline for when its first truck will be available for pre-order. 

Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe spoke to GLT after stepping off stage at the Designing the Future Summit in Michigan. He spoke to the lean product and process development conference about Rivian’s role in the future of mobility. For show-and-tell, Scaringe revealed the chassis on which Rivian’s vehicles will sit—nicknamed the skateboard. The thin base includes the braking, suspension, and cooling systems, with the battery in the middle.

“When there’s no body on the vehicle, it looks a lot like a skateboard,” Scaringe said.

Rivian will begin accepting pre-orders soon after its first two vehicles are unveiled at the LA Auto Show in November, Scaringe said. Rivian will later have a network of retail locations, though Scaringe declined to reveal details of that structure or any partners, on top of online orders.

Rivian will bring both its pickup truck and sport utility vehicle to the LA Auto Show, Scaringe said. Their names haven’t been released. (The pickup's "internal codename" is the A1T. The SUV is the A1C.) The vehicles will share 90 percent of the same components, including the skateboard. Rivian will find cost savings by “minimizing the complexity between variants" in its fleet, Scaringe said.

The first vehicle released will be the five-passenger pickup truck, in 2020, followed by a seven-passenger SUV. They’re expected to be electric with heavy reliance on autonomous-driving technology.

The company chose the LA Auto Show for its big debut in part because it’s close to a “core market for us,” Scaringe said, referring to the West Coast and southern California specifically.

Stealth Mode Is Over

Rivian was largely quiet in 2017 after buying the former Mitsubishi Motors manufacturing plant in Normal. But since May the startup has revealed lots of new information through behind-the-scenes media interviews and Scaringe’s own speeches. A group of Bloomington-Normal community leaders traveled to Rivian’s vehicle and engineering facility outside Detroit in April.

And Scaringe was just announced as the keynote speaker for the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council’s Community Leaders Dinner on Oct. 9.

“We were in extreme stealth (mode),” Scaringe said. “And not ‘hype stealth,’ where you look like you’re being quiet, but are actually very loud. We were actually just very quiet.”

Credit Staff / WGLT
Rivian's RJ Scaringe during a recent GLT interview.

“We wanted to wait until we had really advanced from a development point of view to a significant degree. So that what we were talking about and would then show shortly thereafter demonstrated this was very real. There’s a lot of noise in the system. There are a lot of discussions from lots of new entrants coming in. We didn’t want to get caught in that noise.”

Among Rivian’s announcements in May were new details about its financing. Its publicly known investors include Sumitomo, the Japanese company with a U.S. operation based in New York; Standard Chartered Bank, an international banking group based in London; and Abdul Latif Jameel, the Saudi conglomerate that counts transportation among its core businesses.

“There are other shareholders in the company, but none that we’ve announced,” Scaringe said. “The important thing is that the shareholders in the business of very committed and very excited but also so supportive of all the things we have in front of us in terms of launching our vehicles over the next few years.”

Does that money signal international ambitions for Rivian?

“China and Europe are important markets for us,” Scaringe said. “We have plans to be in both of those (places) very quickly after launch in the U.S.”

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 jobs do materialize, Rivian would be one of McLean County’s Top 10 largest employers.

Rivian now has about 400 employees spread across Illinois, Michigan, and California. The 50 to 60 in Normal include many former Mitsubishi employees, Scaringe said.

“It’s been great to bring back some of those people,” he said.

GLT's Full Interview.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.