#68 – Inside Our Industry – Inside the Rivian Plant: ‘It’s Like Google and Toyota Had a Baby’

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

With a title like that, we just had to read it! We are continuing to see numerous posts on electric vehicles (EVs) and the trials and tribulations moving forward. Rivian recently started production of their pickup truck at their Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, manufacturing facility. This author gets a firsthand look inside the behemoth facility. Follow the link at the end for more about Rivian’s plant.

Inside The Rivian Plant: ‘It’s Like Google And Toyota Had A Baby’
WGLT | By Ryan Denham  |  September 28, 2021

Rivian manufacturing chief Erik Fields started this week’s tour of his massive plant with a fact check.

“Rivian is not a startup. We are a true manufacturing OEM,” Fields said.

OEM is “original equipment manufacturer”—shorthand for a company that makes stuff. During an hourlong tour of the Normal plant, Fields made the case that how Rivian is building its electric vehicles is just as compelling as the vehicles themselves.

“These are all customer vehicles, which is really exciting—to see the line completely full knowing that these will actually be going to customers,” Fields told WGLT as he narrated a golf cart parade of visitors past a line of completed chassis of the R1T pickup truck.

Sunday’s tour comes just two weeks after the formal start of production at Rivian—almost five years since the mysterious company landed in Bloomington-Normal seeking tax breaks to help buy and resurrect the former Mitsubishi plant. The R1T trucks are now in production, with a sport utility vehicle sibling (R1S) expected to move into production before December.

Fields said the plant runs on an unprecedented combination of vertical integration and connectivity. He said that gives Rivian certain competitive advantages that it will need to do something incredibly difficult—launch a new car company, from scratch, during a pandemic.

“It’s like Google and Toyota had a baby,” Fields said.

Vertically integrated – Rivian’s secret sauce in manufacturing is its vertical integration, according to Fields, who’s worked in auto manufacturing for more than 20 years, the last 13 with Nissan in Mississippi.

Vertical integration means, instead of relying on outside suppliers, Rivian makes many of its components in-house.

One example: Stamping. Rivian acquired six presses from the old Mitsubishi plant (part of the $16 million sale in 2017). Rivian retooled them so they can stamp both steel and aluminum. Rivian can now stamp almost 300 distinct body parts for its three current vehicles. Most OEMs only stamp a few pieces, such as those A-class surfaces that a customer sees on the outside. Others don’t stamp their own parts at all, relying on a supplier.

Vertical integration requires space. Rivian already has added about 800,000 square feet to the plant (body shop and drive unit battery area), bringing it to 3.3 million. There are plans to grow to over 6 million square feet in the next few years, Fields said.

Three vehicles, multiple models – Another challenge is launching three vehicles in rapid succession.

The R1T was first. The R1S sport utility vehicle is in a preliminary production stage called “tooling trial” right now; Fields expects customer vehicles to be in production before December.

Rivian is also building electric delivery vans for Amazon, one of its investors. There will be three sizes: the 500, 700, and 900. The 500 is smallest, ideal for more urban environments like European cities or New York City or Chicago. The 900 is the largest, more akin to a typical UPS truck.

Rapidly growing workforce – Everything Fields is hoping to do—even the giant robots—requires humans. And Rivian has lots of those, too. The plant has more than 2,800 employees, making it McLean County’s third-largest employer almost overnight, trailing only State Farm and Illinois State University. Rivian has said it could ultimately hire between 4,000 and 5,000 people in Normal.

Full report