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Rivian Rolls Out Pickup Under The Stars In LA

Rivian wowed a crowd of investors and other VIPs on Monday as the EV startup’s pickup made its first public appearance under—and in front of—the stars in Los Angeles. 

Rivian took over the Griffith Observatory—one of the most scenic spots in LA—for an after-sunset reveal of the R1T pickup. The crowd included Rivian employees and their families, investors, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, and even pop star Rihanna. (She’s dating a family member connected to Rivian’s largest shareholder, Abdul Latif Jameel.) 

Rihanna and RJ
Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
Music star Rihanna appears with Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe on Monday at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

“We’re honored to be able to finally show what we’ve been working on now for years, at a facility (Griffith Observatory) that so much aligns with what we believe in,” said Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe before the R1T pulled in front of the crowd and the LA skyline. 

Rivian, a 9-year-old company, exits stealth mode this week at the LA Auto Show, where the R1T and a companion SUV (the R1S) will debut. The vehicles launch in 2020 and 2021 and will be built at the Normal manufacturing plant that Rivian acquired for $16 million two years ago. Rivian enters an EV market long dominated by Tesla, hoping to find a niche with so-called “adventure” vehicles and the surging popularity of pickups and SUVs in the U.S. market. 

“I was really blown away by the fit and finish of the final product,” said Koos, who was invited to LA by Rivian. “All the things they talked about today were incorporated in the prototype vehicles years ago. I think they hit a home run here.”

Video: Watch Rivian's reveal Monday night in LA.

Monday began with a flurry of media reports about the R1T from the LA TimesWired, Car and Driver, and many other publications. Preorders for the pickup (starting at $69,000) opened Monday morning, requiring a $1,000 deposit. Rivian said traffic was so high to its website that it temporarily caused problems.

One of the preorders is the Town of Normal, Koos said.

“It’s important for us as a community to show that kind of support and showcase that vehicle. That’s what we did with Mitsubishi’s i-MiEVs when they first came onto the market,” Koos said, referring to the dormant EVTown initiative. “People have to touch it and feel it and ride it to really understand what it is.” 

It’s unclear how the vehicle will be used—other than it would be highly visible.

The Town of Normal, in partnership with Rivian, is also talking to the state of Illinois about making McLean County a test site for autonomous vehicle research, Koos said. Rivian’s launch vehicles will be Level 3 highway autonomous, meaning drivers can take their hands off the road but must remain alert inside. 

The Illinois Department of Transportation recently launched the Autonomous Illinois testing program, looking to pair up tech and car companies with willing communities.

“What’s unique about McLean County is you’ve got a little bit of urban, a little suburban, and you’ve got rural, and there’s plenty of opportunity to test autonomous vehicles under different conditions,” Koos said. “Rivian is the one that’s excited about that. They see that as a real potential to test that product in a lot of different scenarios.” 

Many of those at Griffith Observatory on Monday were Rivian employees from the design, engineering, and other teams. Also there was John O’Steen, who knew Scaringe when the 35-year-old was just a kid growing up in Florida. O’Steen said he became the first outside investor in Rivian a decade ago—the first one after Scaringe’s own father. Rivian is now funded in part by the Saudi conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel and other global firms.

“The team they’ve put together is amazing,” O’Steen said of Rivian’s 560-person workforce. “There’s so much talent and so much enthusiasm for what they’re doing. That’s part of why they’re going to be as successful as they’re gonna be.”

Rivian’s LA premiere continues Tuesday with a midday press conference when the R1S (SUV) will be introduced. Pricing and technical details for that have not been released.

Short excerpt from GLT.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.