A rising luxury electric vehicle manufacturer based out of the United States has attracted $1.7 billion in investments from big companies, including Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon and famed automaker Ford—all without selling a single car.
Billed as the “Tesla of trucks,” Michigan-based Rivian Automotive is a luxury electric vehicle maker founded in 2009 by engineer Robert Scaringe to build and sell fuel-efficient sports utility vehicles and trucks.
Rivian’s Early Years
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained Scaringe began with a very small team of twenty engineers and was provided the initial funding for the project by friends and family. After failing to develop a fuel-efficient sports utility vehicle (SUV), the company eventually shifted focus to electric SUVs and trucks. Scaringe wants Rivian to be a competitor to EV maker Tesla.
Based out of Plymouth, Michigan, Rivian purchased a Mitsubishi Motors factory in Normal, Illinois in 2016. The company also has offices in California. In 2017, Rivian began coming out of the cold, announcing that it was testing prototypes of a five-seat electric truck and a seven-seat SUV, which would be sold in 2020.
What Is Significant About Rivian?
The electric vehicle market is increasingly crowded with Audi, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Volkswagen entering the space within the next few years. But Rivian is setting itself apart from the EV competition by offering greater range and superior build quality, making its vehicles able to withstand off-road wear and tear.
At a car show in Los Angeles in late 2018, Rivian showcased the R1T truck and R1S SUV, highlighting their impressive underbody protection and range of 400 miles on a single charge, which beats the competition by at least 50 miles.
With the new models, Rivian hopes to capture the off-road segment of the EV market which Elon Musk-owned Tesla has still yet to exploit. As the R1S competes directly with the Tesla Model S, the R1T will stand out on its own. Although Musk has said that Tesla is building an electric pickup truck, the vehicle has still not been unveiled.
According to a report in Teslarati, the battery prowess of Rivian vehicles is down to two important factors. Firstly, Rivian is using a new cell design in its battery packs produced by LG, known as the 2170, that delivers twice the current but is also 50 percent larger than the design 18650 cell used in most EVs. The increased current flow will help with fast-charging capabilities, while a larger battery provides greater battery capacity, boosting total power.
Rivian has also found a unique way to cool down battery packs that does not require the use of chillers, a coolant used to maintain optimal temperatures inside a battery pack, that consumes a lot of power. Rivian uses a metal plate placed between rows of cells in a battery pack that cools down multiple rows at once. With these innovations, Rivian hopes to leap ahead of the competition in EV battery capabilities.
In order to protect the battery once it has been fitted onto the chassis of the vehicle, Rivian has designed a protective shield that will line the entire underbody of its EV models. The “skateboard” chassis, as it has been nicknamed by the press, will accompany a carbon-fiber, waterproof covering on the battery that aims to make Rivian EVs off-road choices for consumers.
Earlier in May, the carmaker filed a patent for a high-speed EV charging system that can be used at different voltages. The filing envisions a battery than can charge at different voltages and uses less expensive components in production. Since an EV battery is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, this would also bring down the total cost of the EV.
The company motto is to “Keep the world adventurous forever.” As the New York Times notes, this slogan fits with the mountain-biking and outdoor personality of the founder Scaringe. Scaringe wants Rivian EVs to be rough and tough, but also to be environmentally sustainable and affordable. This line of thinking has attracted the attention of big investors from around the world.
Who Has Invested in Rivian?
Rivian bought the Mitsubishi factory in late 2016 under a deal with the Normal town authorities who promised $49.5 million in state tax credits for the company if it created 1,000 local jobs by 2024. Initially, the company invested $175 million into a plan to build electric vehicles with self-driving capabilities.
By late 2018, investment in the EV maker had crossed $500 million. This included contributions from a Japan-based trading firm named Sumitomo and a Saudi Arabian automotive conglomerate owned by businessman Abdul Latif Jamal. The Standard Chartered Bank in London also pooled in with $200 million in debt financing.
Earlier this year in February, after a strong showing at the Los Angeles car show, Rivian raised close to another $700 million in investments from big firms led by Jeff Bezos-owned technology giant Amazon. In April 2019, American carmaker Ford Motor Company invested $500 million in Rivian.
The total investments in the Michigan-based EV firm have now crossed $1.7 billion, reports The New York Times. Since Rivian has still yet to sell a car, this has naturally led to questions about the scale of the money being poured into the company and what it means for the future of the electric vehicle industry.
What Might Rivian Offer Amazon and Ford?
The range of Rivian electric vehicles designed for rugged terrain and capable of fast-charging will be a significant step forward for the electric vehicle industry, which is dealing with a slowing demand amid battery supply chain issues and consumer uncertainty over the limited capability offered by electric batteries compared to hybrid or fuel-based alternatives.
Amazon began as an e-commerce company, but may be emerging as a shipping and logistics behemoth as it operates an expanding network of delivery vehicles and fulfillment centers. It would stand to hugely benefit from a fleet of electric vehicles to cut down the costs of fuel-based supply trucks used to deliver products to customers globally.
In February, Amazon Chief Executive for Worldwide Consumer Jeff Wilke said that Rivian represented the future of electric transportation. Amazon’s investment in Rivian comes as it is experimenting with a range of ways to make its consumer delivery services more fast and efficient, including through the use of drones.
For carmaker Ford, Rivian represents an opportunity to expand its portfolio in the fast-growing auto sector of electric vehicles. The American carmaker has traditionally relied on producing fuel-based trucks and cars, although it has previously announced it is working on the development of electric cars as well.
According to a press release issued by Ford Motors after investing $500 million in Rivian earlier this year, the carmaker would be making use of the skateboard chassis built by Rivian to develop a new electric vehicle. Ford is a key player in the pickup truck market, and its investment in Rivian also indicates electric pick-ups trucks might be the future.
What EV Models Does Rivian Make?
Rivian has so far announced two models, the R1T pickup electric truck and the R1S sports utility vehicle. The pickup truck will be priced from $69,000 to $90,000, with a cargo capacity of 1,760 pounds and a towing capacity of close to 11,000 pounds. It will be powered with a 180kWh battery that will give 400 miles on a single full charge.
The R1S SUV will also be priced in the same range and is likely to compete with the Tesla Model S and Ford’s traditional off-road vehicles. The SUV will be capable of going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 3 seconds and will have a towing capacity of 7,716 pounds. It would be capable of carrying a payload of 1,763 pounds.
Rivian plans on starting production in 2020, with a target of 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles per year from 2021 onwards. Compared to these numbers, the Tesla delivery records still put the Musk-owned company firmly ahead of competitors, maybe for years to come. According to a report in The New York Times, Tesla delivered 245,000 vehicles in 2018.
Rivian’s Future Challenges
In the coming years, Rivian will have to negotiate several challenges before it can realistically hope to compete with Tesla. These may include battery supply chain issues, cheap international production for saturated markets, and marketing strategies to lull consumers into buying EVs while fast-charging facilities and road networks for EVs in most areas of the world are still lacking.
Tesla is facing financial troubles and supply chain issues as it looks to increase production to match delivery orders. Both Tesla and Rivian are relatively new entrants into the auto sector. Like Tesla, Rivian will experience growing pains as it begins mass production and attempts to scale. And this could give the established combustion engine vehicle manufacturers the opportunity to catch up in the electric vehicle and broader new energy vehicle space.