Rivian – Rugged reality check for Tesla?

THE DISRUPTIVE EV STARTUP IS BANKROLLED BY FORD AND AMAZON’S BILLIONS, AND AUSTRALIA IS PART OF ITS AMBITIONS. HERE’S WHY ELON OUGHT TO PAY ATTENTION

ANDY ENRIGHT

THE IDEA OF a decadeold startup seems an oxymoron but that’s an apt description of electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian. Based in the western Detroit suburb of Plymouth, Michigan, as ferrous a location in the US rust belt as you could possibly imagine, Rivian aims to disrupt the traditional Motown mass-marketing model – but whereas Tesla was the tech company outsider, Rivian has solid car industry backing. And that expertise pool in the physical manufacture of vehicles should be enough to put Elon Musk on notice.

To fund his startup, Rivian founder RJ Scaringe (see below) initially raised US$450m (A$645m) from three major investors: the Saudi investment group Abdul Latif Jameel, Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation and Britain’s Standard Chartered bank. In February an Amazon-led consortium poured in US$700m and Ford subsequently took a US$500m stake in the company in April.

A joint press release from Ford and Rivian highlighted how the two companies would co-develop an “allnew, next-generation” EV platform for a range of models. With electric versions of its F-150 pick-up and Mustanginspired crossover already in the works, Ford has all manner of options with the modular ‘skateboard’.

This chassis unit that underpins the US$72,500 R1S family SUV and the US$68,000 R1T dual-cab ute (vehicle families with 91 percent parts commonality) features strut front and multi-link rear suspension with air springs, a 147kW electric motor at each different underfloor wheelbase platforms are planned, with no fewer than six bodystyles in the works.

Rivian spokesman Chris Wollen confirmed that Australia is in the product plan. “Right-hand drive is coming; it’s been in the plans from the beginning,” he said. “We know that there are markets that will be into these vehicles and the adventure positioning, and Australia fits that perfectly. We know we’re nicely suited for Australia, so it’s an important market for us.”

The first production vehicles, destined for North American markets, are set to roll from the lines in Normal, Illinois next year. Mitsubishi, the former owner of the plant, could produce 250,000 vehicles per year on these lines but Rivian’s initial forecasts are somewhat more modest: 20,000 units in 2021 and double that in 2022. Sales are forecast through a Tesla-style direct marketing platform.

It’s been a long time in gestation but Rivian could well be the real deal.

ANDY ENRIGHT

WHO IS RJ SCARINGE?

IN FOCUS

A doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT’ Sloan Automotive Lab followed, the young entrepreneur harbouring a dream to build high-performance, low-emission vehicles.

After funding was secured and plans to develop a coupe shelved, Scaringe assembled a dream team of talent, including Mark Vinnels, Rivian’s executive director of engineering, a man with the McLaren 720S on his resume, and Jeep design guru Jeff Hammoud.

Scaringe has diverged from Tesla in tapping into the knowledge pool of car makers’ manufacturing, engineering and design experience. “He’s taken time to learn from everyone’s mistakes, and he’s going after a market that is still growing,” Tony Posawatz, who helped develop hybrid for GM, said.

Targeting growth-market segments is a savvy move. “Tesla did an outstanding Scaringe said. “They pulled customers out luxury cars and even the Toyota Prius. You’ll see us pulling people out of Land Rovers, BMWs, Subarus and Teslas.”