OPINION: A second Rivian plant in Illinois? Let’s keep the momentum going


Illinois should not blunder an opportunity to become site of Rivian Automotive Inc.’s next factory. Out of the west Normal Rivian plant, there is rare economic motion for our state that should not be squelched.

The electric vehicle maker has said it is discussions with multiple locations for the plant, which would be the company’s second after the Normal facility.

Bloomberg on Wednesday reported that Fort Worth, Texas, officials are eyeing a $440 million incentive package to secure the $5 billion project. Codenamed “Project Tera,” according to a document obtained by Bloomberg, the site would yield 200,000 vehicles annually and have 7,500 jobs created by 2027.

Bloomberg said that “the Texas site has become the front-runner for Rivian,” according to people familiar with the discussions.

Rivian unsurprisingly isn’t talking about specifics.

From the editorial board: "In speaking to law enforcement leadership, none could cite examples of a media outlet using scanner traffic inappropriately. There’s no reason to believe any would suddenly act somehow different now."

Neither are Illinois officials.

The rebirth of the shuttered Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in Normal has been astonishing, despite setbacks and Rivian delaying the production launch over a global microchip shortage.

Irvine, Calif.-based Rivian has bought hundreds of acres for future expansions in Normal and a $7.5 million electric vehicle workforce development program is coming to Heartland Community College.

Other EV investments popping up across the state include Canadian electric vehicle maker Lion Electric Co., which is creating a 900,000-square-foot plant in Joliet to make electric buses and trucks.

In Lemont, Argonne National Laboratory is already researching batteries.

A report by BW Research Partnership projects the electric transportation sector in Illinois will increase by 83% by 2024. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has said Central Illinois could become the electric vehicle “Silicon Valley of the 21st Century."

The state already has a proud history of vehicle manufacturing, with plants in Chicago and Belvidere. The roots of Caterpillar and Deere are deep. Our universities are world-class.

Samsung Group is in talks to build a plant in Normal to make batteries, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a news conference via Zoom Thursday. READ THE STORY HERE.

At the same time, President Joe Biden has announced an ambitious agenda to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 be America-made zero-emissions vehicles. The American Jobs Plan has $174 billion going to electric vehicle charging stations and vehicle buyer tax credits by 2030.

Added up, Illinois is positioned to become an electric vehicle leader at a time when there is unprecedented interest in this nascent manufacturing sector.

Rarely is Illinois associated with words “economic success.” But signs are pointing that way.

Clean energy has been a focus of Gov. J.B. Pritzker economic development plan. He’s called himself the state’s “chief marketing officer.”

Here’s to hoping that includes continuing the state’s promising EV momentum.

Will Rivian be the ‘Tesla of trucks?’

How long has Rivian been around?

RJ Scaringe, 38, founded the company in his home state of Florida in 2009, not long after completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Originally named Avera Motors, Scaringe rebranded his firm as Rivian Automotive in 2011. The name pays homage, in part, to the Indian River Lagoon near Scaringe’s hometown of Melbourne, Fla., he wrote.

Rivian spent the next seven years "in stealth mode" designing its new vehicles until their unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2018.

Brian Cassella

Who is RJ Scaringe?

The Florida native first dreamed of starting his own car company when he was in high school, Forbes reported.

He studied for his doctorate at MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab. While there, Forbes reported, he grew disillusioned with the idea of building another gas-powered car.

During a 2020 interview with the Lean Enterprise Institute, Scaringe said civilization’s addiction to fossil fuels has reached at "an inflection point."

"The fossil fuels we use today were built up over the course of approximately 300 million years. We’ve used about half of that in 100 years. So, it’s not a debate as to whether we have to switch off our dependence on fossil fuels," he said.

"The other wrinkle in this is the impacts of burning fossil fuels. The longer we wait to make a transition, the greater the damage to the planet and air quality. Essentially, what we’re doing is taking carbon that was buried in the earth and moving it into the atmosphere. … We see a huge urgency to solve that, and solving that is not an easy problem."

At Rivian, Scaringe said, "we’re building something that is meaningful. We’re making something that matters for our kids’ kids’ kids."

Carlos Delgado

How fast is Rivian growing?

The company went from 600 employees at the end of 2018 to more than 7,000, "and is growing every week," a company spokeswoman said. More than 1,400 of its employees are based in Southern California.


Where are Rivian vehicles being built?

The company paid $16 million in 2017 for a 3.3-million-square-foot former Mitsubishi plant in Normal.

The Rivian plant currently has more than 2,200 employees and is expected to have 3,000 workers by early 2022, a company spokeswoman said.

The Chicago Tribune reported the company also has 1,000 robots to help build vehicles. Scaringe has posted several tweets showing robots painting vehicles and dipping chassis into a chemical bath.

Brian Cassella

How many vehicles does Rivian plan to build each year?

Rivian expects to deliver 20,000 units its first year and 40,000 its second, according to Forbes. The company won’t say how many vehicles have been pre-ordered.

Brian Cassella

Rivian has been around for 12 years, but has yet to sell a single vehicle. What has it been doing all those years?

To build an auto company from scratch, Scaringe told the Lean Enterprise Institute, "there are a number of items you need to have at the same time or in parallel, all of which are hard."

You need billions of dollars, thousands of engineers, about 250 suppliers, a manufacturing plant and a team, he said.

"I had none of those," he said. "No team, no money, no plants, no suppliers, no facilities."

The challenge was convincing people to give him startup capital when he had nothing to show he could build EVs, he said. It took two years to develop an initial product plan. He then set out to show backers he had a product that was both technically feasible and for which there is a market.

"Today, it’s easy to see there’s a market (for EVs)," Scaringe said. "But eight, nine years ago, for an electric pickup truck, (it) took some convincing."


What’s holding up production?

A: In a letter to customers last month, Scaringe blamed delays on the "cascading impacts of the pandemic."

"Everything from facility construction to equipment installation, to vehicle component supply (especially semiconductors), has been impacted by the pandemic," he wrote. "Beyond these unforeseen challenges, launching three new vehicles while setting up a multi-vehicle manufacturing plant is a complex orchestra of coordinated and interlinked activities where small issues can translate into ramp delays."

Scaringe said Rivian’s two production lines have completed hundreds of vehicles for testing purposes but is holding off on sales to ensure "the quality and robustness of our launch products."

In an interview last November with Bloomberg’s Ed Ludlow, Scaringe said he expects supply constraints to hamper production through 2023.

"The challenge of launching a production system," he told Ludlow, "is managing complexity."


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August 13, 2021 at 02:02PM

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