Designed in Detroit, Rivian pickup, SUV plug in for adventure

This feature is courtesy of Driven, the story of how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.
Michigan electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian has driven under the radar since establishing its headquarters in Plymouth in 2009, teasing only tidbits of information, and then very rarely.

But no longer.

The time has come for Rivian to reveal its two distinct all-electric adventure vehicles, and the company is using the late-November 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show as a platform to unveil the five-seat R1T pickup truck, as well as the seven-passenger R1S SUV.

The two vehicles, boxy with a unique modern aesthetic, are built on what Rivian calls its “skateboard platform,” and reportedly share about 90 percent of components. They will have a 200- to 450-mile range, depending on battery configuration. Each will offer L3 autonomous driving, as well as some special curated adventure-focused features, according to Michael McHale, director of corporate communications for Rivian.

Rivian's headquarters is in Plymouth, Michigan, and is home to 350 of the company's 500 employees.

Both vehicles will be available for purchase in 2020, and will start under $70,000. Rivian is currently exploring options for sales and distribution.

Rivian is a solidly-American electric vehicle manufacturer with a “tri-nodal” working culture that is split between Michigan, Illinois, and California. Vehicle engineering and design take place in the official headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan. Battery and electric development happens in Irvine, California, and technology and data are focused in San Jose, California.

The vehicles themselves are built in a former Mitsubishi plant located in Normal, Illinois that Rivian purchased for a reported $16 million. Rivian has taken advantage of the already-skilled workforce in Illinois, which, McHale points out, is not far from Detroit. The Plymouth headquarters employes 300 of the 560 Rivian employees nationwide.

Rivian's two vehicles are built on their "skateboard" platform, which the company will supply to other OEMs to further develop.

Founder and CEO RJ Scaringe, a Florida native and MIT graduate, considers Plymouth his base, but in theory, “headquarters is wherever RJ is,” says McHale.

But every Rivian location is within the United States, and that is by design.

“Rivian is an American company, and that was a deliberate choice from the beginning. That means the whole of the project, not just manufacturing,” McHale says. “Some [automotive companies] will design and develop overseas and manufacture here, or design and develop here and manufacture overseas, but we are a fully American company that made a conscious decision to design, develop and produce here in the states.”

In addition to producing as many as 20,000 vehicles during its first full year, Rivian will also serve in the capacity of supplier, making the skateboard platform available to other automotive companies to build on Rivian technology.

The 2018 LA Auto Show reveal was a conscious choice for Rivian, matching the company’s all-electric platform with the historically environmental focus of the show.

“LA is a great location for new tech companies, for green technology, and we wanted to be there and be a part of that,” McHale says.

Rivian's vehicles have specially-curated adventure features, like a large front-trunk space where an engine would normally sit.

Employing the very best techniques to design and develop high-end vehicles uniquely made for off-road adventures, Rivian’s team uses a full array of automotive design tools, from computer-assisted programs, to three dimensional clay modeling techniques, considered by some to be the best and most adaptable way to get a true feel for how light falls on a vehicle under various conditions, says McHale.

“A designer can always put their head into a 3-D headset, but nothing beats that physical light in the moment….When you have a physical model, you can simulate that easily,” he says.

“We do recognize that in the Detroit area there is a skill base in [the clay modeling] segment and know that Detroit colleges and universities support the development of that skill.”

The Rivian R1S is a seven-passenger SUV with an all-electric platform and room for gear and people.

From the outset, Scaringe prioritized building centers of expertise where the very best human capital and resources exist.

“For engineering design and automotive strategy, he situated our operations in Michigan, where all the clever people are,” says McHale. “RJ has made a specific plan around hiring the very best people in the very best roles.”

Rivian is keen to position its vehicles apart from other EVs, those either in development or on the road today. Rivian’s electric adventure vehicles focus on capability and usability, rather than appearance and speed.

“We are where nobody really is right now,” says McHale. “People will very much want to use our vehicles.”

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All photos courtesy of Rivian