Set back nearly a year by the pandemic, electric truck startup Rivian is busy building out its plant in Normal, with a belated production launch now planned for next summer.
But the plan to bring thousands of jobs to the rural college town about 130 miles south of Chicago has hit some bumps in the road, including a lawsuit from Tesla alleging Rivian is poaching employees and stealing trade secrets.
The Rivian plant has more robots (500) than employees (400), but the human ranks are expected to swell to about 1,000 with a "big round of staffing" early next year, Rivian spokeswoman Amy Mast said Wednesday.
The lawsuit may make it harder for Rivian to use Tesla as a talent pool.
Filed last month in California Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges Rivian is knowingly encouraging the misappropriation of trade secrets by dozens of Tesla employees it has hired, including four named employees who allegedly brought "highly valuable" information with them.
"Tesla has discovered a disturbing pattern of employees who are departing for Rivian surreptitiously stealing Tesla trade secret, confidential, and proprietary information -- information that is especially useful for a startup electric vehicle company," the lawsuit alleges. "And Rivian encourages those thefts."
A Tesla spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
On Monday, Rivian filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as insufficient, speculative and an effort by Tesla to "malign" a competitor and "scare" its own employees who were thinking of jumping ship.
"Tesla did not file this case to defend or protect any legitimate intellectual property rights," Rivian said in its motion. "Tesla sued in an improper and malicious attempt to slow Rivian's momentum and attempt to damage Rivian's brand."
Founded 10 years ago, Plymouth, Michigan-based Rivian started 2020 with plenty of momentum, fueled by more than $2.8 billion in investments last year from Ford, Cox Automotive and Amazon, among others.