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Electric Vehicle Startup Rivian Shares an Update on its Illinois Factory That Was Once Owned by Mitsubishi Motors

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【Summary】In the midst of the coronavirus shutdown of the auto industry, Electric vehicle startup Rivian shared a video of the construction progress at its factory in Normal, Illinois. The new factory is where Rivian will build its electric pickup truck and SUV.

Eric Walz    Apr 01, 2020 2:15 PM PT
Electric Vehicle Startup Rivian Shares an Update on its Illinois Factory That Was Once Owned by Mitsubishi Motors
Rivian's fully-electric R1T pickup truck will be built in Illinois.

While the recent coronavirus crisis in the U.S has shut down auto factories, there is still important work for automakers to get done for when the coronavirus pandemic is over. Auto industry employees are keeping busy working remotely and attending important meetings via video conferencing instead of in-person.

In the midst of the coronavirus shutdown of the auto industry, Electric vehicle startup Rivian shared a video of the construction progress at its factory in Normal, Illinois. The factory is where Rivian will build its electric pickup truck and SUV. 

Rivian, like other companies, was forced to stop most of its "non essential" work, along with the rest of the auto industry.

Rivian is one of only a few electric vehicle startups that owns a former auto factory. Rivian joins California-based Tesla, which purchased a former General Motors assembly plant in Fremont, California which first opened in 1962. Another EV startup Workhorse, purchased GM's Lordstown, Ohio factory, which the automaker closed last year.

Rivian purchased a shuttered Mitsubishi Motors auto plant in Normal, Illinois in 2017, which is fairly close to the home of the U.S. auto industry in Detroit. The factory is currently undergoing renovations to converting it into an electric vehicle manufacturing plant for Rivian's electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors closed the plant in Normal, Illinois in 2015, putting the facility up for sale after it decided to stop manufacturing vehicles in the U.S. and focus on the Southeast Asia markets.

At the time, Mitsubishi was the sixth-biggest employer in the region, with 1,280 full-time employees, according to the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council's website. Rivian's EV factory will bring back some of those lost jobs.

Rivian has lofty goals. The EV startup is entering into the pickup and SUV category with its fully-electric offerings, which is the most profitable segment for U.S. automakers and a big chunk of their annual profits.

Rivian is challenging U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford with its fully-electric R1T electric pickup truck and companion R1S SUV. Both vehicles offer more horsepower than gas-powered trucks.

Rivian is also well funded. Its investors include e-commerce giant Amazon and the Ford Motor Company. The two companies made a combined $1.2 billion investment in Rivian

Amazon tapped Rivian to build 100,000 custom electric delivery vans that it plans to add to its delivery fleet. Rivian is also working with Ford on an electric platform that will underpin the first fully-electric SUV from Ford's luxury arm Lincoln

However, Ford has dominated the pickup truck segment for over 40 consecutive years, which means new competitors like Rivian face an uphill battle for market share. But owning a former auto factory is a big advantage that Rivian has over other EV startups.

Rivian joins segment leader Tesla in purchasing a former auto factory to build its electric vehicles. Ironically, Tesla's factory in California was once owned by Detroit automaker GM, until the automaker decided to end production there.

GM operated the 5.3-million-square-foot Fremont facility until 1982, when competition from imported cars from Toyota, Honda and others put a serious dent in GM's car sales in the early 1980's. With no viable model to build there, GM decided to close the plant.

However, the California plant would get a second life in a joint venture with GM and its rival Toyota. The two automakers formed the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture jointly owned by both automakers.

GM produced vehicles at the NUMMI factory together with Toyota from 1984 when the joint venture was shut down on April 1, 2010, exactly ten years ago. Among the vehicles built there were the Chevy Prizm, Toyota Corolla and Tacoma pickup, as well as compact models for GM's defunct Geo division.

The Nummi plant once churned out hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Yearly production peaked at 428,633 vehicles in 2006. 

The California factory got a third life as the home of Tesla when the company purchased the former GM plant. Production of the Model S began there in 2012. Today, all of Tesla's electric vehicles sold in the U.S. are built at its Fremont factory.

Now Rivian's factory in Illinois is set to become the next major auto assembly factory reconfigured to produce electric vehicles.

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