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Rivian EV plant aims to ramp up production, with 5,000 workers, 83,000 orders and a few missing parts

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

NORMAL, Illinois — As problems go, Rivian CEO and founder R.J. Scaringe believes he has a good one.

The startup EV manufacturer has renovated a shuttered Normal factory, created thousands of jobs, raised billions of dollars and launched production of an electric pickup truck and SUV that have captured the imagination of the automotive world.

But six months after the first R1T truck rolled off the assembly line at the former Mitsubishi plant, Rivian can’t build its $70,000 EVs fast enough to satisfy customer demand — or some Wall Street analysts and industry critics. Scaringe cited the simultaneous ramp-up of several different models and the broader supply chain issues roiling the auto industry as hampering production.

“Demand is more than we can produce at peak capacity, which is good, but it’s still a problem,” said Scaringe, 39, during a recent plant tour. “Our job is to make sure that that’s not the case.”

Hoping to assuage concerns, Scaringe opened the doors to his 3.3 million-square-foot factory last week, demonstrating both the progress Rivian has made, and the urgency to increase production.

When Rivian hosted its first open house in the Normal town circle in fall 2019, the sprawling plant on the outskirts of town was still a hulking shell and empty parking lot overrun by geese, undeterred by a handful of coyote statues guarding the vacant grounds.

 

Two and a half years later, the geese are still there, but they have plenty of company. The parking lot is packed and the plant is buzzing with 5,200 employees and 810 massive robots building thousands of R1T pickups and R1S SUVs, along with two models of EV delivery vans for Amazon, an early Rivian investor.

California-based Rivian, which is sitting on $18 billion in cash, has orders for more than 83,000 consumer EVs and 100,000 Amazon vans, but it built only 2,553 vehicles during the first quarter. Scaringe said the plant is on track to hit a target of 25,000 vehicles this year. Rivian would be able to produce 50,000 vehicles this year, if not for supplier constraints, he said.

The people and the processes are in place to reach the plant’s 150,000-vehicle capacity by the end of 2023, but ramping up to full production has been slowed by pandemic disruptions and raw material shortages that “haven’t been seen in the history of the industrialized world,” Scaringe said.

The global semiconductor shortage has been exacerbated at Rivian by its limited production history, with suppliers earmarking computer chips for established automakers first, the company said. In addition, Rivian is having supply chain issues with wire harnesses and printed circuit boards.

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