Autos

All about electric car maker Rivian, who owns it and will it set up in the UK


The pioneering US electric car manufacturer is reportedly in talks with the UK government over plans for a huge factory in the UK with US bosses visiting the UK for a recce of a potential factory site.

The California-based firm has been in early-stage discussion with ministers this summer about a location between Bristol and Bridgwater, in Somerset, but there is competition from sites in the Netherlands and Germany.

Here Businesslive takes a closer look at the company that is considering making a base in the UK.

Who set up Rivian?

RJ Scaringe set up the company in 2009 which eventually became Rivian after completing a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab.

According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $3.4billion – and, partly due to his youth and disruptive spirit, he has attracted comparisons with Tesla boss Elon Musk.

The 38-year-old Californian father of three is a radical thinker and keen outdoorsman. With vegan principles, he plans to restore an old farm across from Rivian’s assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, to provide fresh food for his employees.

And the interiors of Rivian vehicles are entirely animal-free.

A 2019 interview with the New York Times describes how Scaringe started up with funding from friends and family, with both Scaringe and his father taking out second mortgages to plough into the business.

Ditching its first design to create a fuel-efficient sports car, Rivian now intends to do for the truck and SUV market what Tesla did for luxury cars. It wants to create vehicles that can go off road and are powerful enough to do hard graft and tough terrain using advanced battery systems.

It has also designed a skateboard chassis that it plans to sell to other car makers.

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But it is a 24/7 enterprise – Scaringe splits his time across the firm’s engineering HQ in Plymouth and three other sites in the states.

He told the New York Times that his wife and children get just 5% of his time.

Setting up an automobile firm was a lifelong dream for Scaringe, who as a teenager rebuilt vintage Porches alongside his neighbour. But he also wanted to solve the environmental problem that vehicles cause.

On his birthday, employees reportedly don blue – his favourite colour on ‘Dress Like RJ Day’.

Larry Parker, creative director of Rivian is quoted as saying that he is an engima: “Sometimes we don’t know where he is going. To keep up with RJ is not easy.”

An inspiration is Alex Honnold, a rock climber who scaled Yosemite’s El Capitan without equipment.

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Who are the backers?

Rivian had a fairly low profile for the first decade until it caught the eye of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

According to the New York Times, Bezos took a private tour of the Rivian HQ in Michigan before leading a $700million investment in Rivian in 2019. Two months later, in April, Ford Motor invested $500million.

In July, Rivian closed a $2.5bn (£1.8bn) private funding round, led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, US investment firm D1 Capital Partners and Ford.

It takes the amount the company has raised since 2019 to a whopping $10.5bn (£7.5bn)

The company confidentially filed for an initial public offering on Aug 27, 2021, that values the electric vehicle maker at around $80billion, reports Investopedia. The IPO may come as soon as mid-November, according to Bloomberg.

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Amazon announced in 2019 that it would buy 100,000 Rivian vehicles for its cargo delivery fleet as part of the company’s “Climate Pledge”.

What do Rivian make?

Rivian’s R1T Truck has a starting cost of $67,500 with an EPA estimated range of 314 miles.

The R1S SUV starts at $70,000 with an EPA estimated range of 316 miles.

That’s further than the Tesla Model X, which can be driven up to 295 miles.

In terms of full scale production, the hope was to produce up to 40,000 vehicles in the first full year of production 2021, according the the 2019 New York Times article.

Now, the Rivian website states that it expects its first full year of production to be 2023.

It is said to have received thousands of reservations from buyers paying deposits of $1,000 each.

The company, which plans to be carbon neutral by no later than 2028, designs for the complete life cycle of the vehicle. Battery packs are designed to be easily removed and either recycled or used in “second life” applications such as stationary storage. The interiors are made from 100% animal-free ‘vegan leather’ with mid-life repairability and end-of-life recyclability planned into the design.

What would it mean for Somerset and the UK?

The firm is said to be eyeing an area between Bristol and Bridgwater, in Somerset, for a UK plant at the 616-acre Gravity smart campus – off junction 23 of the M5.

According to sources, Rivian bosses visited the UK site this week before flying on to Germany to visit a rival site before making a final decision, it is understood.

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The UK previously missed out to Germany on an investment by Tesla, which opted to open its factory in the European Union following concerns around the uncertainties caused by Brexit.

If Rivian builds a factory in the UK, it would be its first outside the US. A deal with the carmaker would be worth £1bn to the UK economy and in the South West alone could create 10,000 jobs and another 90,000 indirect roles as part of the supply chain.

If it moves ahead, it would be the biggest car deal of its kind in the UK since the 1980s – and a major boost to the country’s automotive industry, which saw production slump to its lowest level since 1984 last year amid the pandemic.

It is understood the Gravity site is the only area in Britain large enough for such a project.

In August, BusinessLive revealed the deal was hanging in the balance over the financial incentives Britain could offer. It is understood that one way to unlock it could be to provide the Bristol region with freeport status.

Earlier this year, Bristol lost out in its bid for a freeport – a designated zone where the normal tax and tariff rules of the country do not apply – despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying in November it was a “strong contender” for the status.

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