A New Normal

A progressive EV startup manufactures from a small Midwest town

While Tesla seems to have somewhat hit its apex, countless electric vehicle manufacturers vie for the throne. One of them is doing while simultaneously helping to revitalize the town of Normal, Illinois. That company is Rivian Automotive.

Rivian’s brain trust resides mostly in California—Battery, Electric and Controls in Irvine, Technology and Data Science in San Jose—but its headquarters are in Plymouth, Michigan and its manufacturing plant is in Normal.

A 2.6-million-square-foot behemoth, the Normal factory manufactures vehicles components such as battery packs. The Normal plant has a paint shop, robotics, stamping machines, and other production equipment such as injection molding. It has drawn comparisons to Tesla’s ‘Gigafactory’ in California, both for its size and for being an acquired-and-repurposed facility. In this case, the Normal plant was formerly a Mitsubishi production facility that once employed 3,600 and was part of the town’s lifeblood. Residents familiar with job loss have cautious optimism that the Rivian plant, acquired in January 2017, will bring some of that life back. Currently, the refurbished plant employs around 100, with 71 of those coming from the Normal area. It hasn’t even started production in earnest yet. It also just got a big boost.

News on February 15 that Amazon had bought stake in the company can only kindle the town’s burgeoning hopes. The $700 million Amazon-led investment brings the company’s raised funding to about $1.4 billion. Rivian execs think it is well on track to begin production next year.

 

Crucially, Rivian has stimulated the EV community with arguably its most promising sport utility option ever. The platform announced by the company in 2017, which included both an electric SUV and a pickup truck, is seen by some executives groundbreaking because it can potentially be modified for future vehicles or adapted by other companies, with both vehicles semi-autonomous and designed for on-road and off-road driving. For a look at these models, view the video above, accompanied by typical enthusiasm from supportive car nuts. (Editor’s note: we may need a new word for EV-enthusiasts, as ‘gearhead’ no longer seems to apply.)

The acquisition and refurbishment of the plant was a surprise and somewhat of a long shot, as the Tribune details. It was purchased (along with its manufacturing contents) for $16 million just two winters ago. Rivian received a $1 million grant and a five-year tax abatement from Normal, contingent on meeting employment targets and investing $40.5 million over five years. These are promising numbers and agreements for Normal residents as well as the big-time developers. Rivian also received $49.5 million in tax credits from the state government; these credits are also contingent upon meeting employment targets and investing at least $175 million into the site by 2024.

Combine the promise of the new with the resilience of the old, and Normal is hopefully in for a deserved revival that can erase the bitterness of the Mitsubishi loss.

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