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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

“An R1 has roughly 2,000 different components. We have 1,999 of those, and that doesn’t equal a car,” said Scaringe. “So that’s the challenge. It requires the completeness of the supply chain to achieve ramp.”

When Rivian went public in November, investors were betting the EV startup would become the Tesla of trucks, pushing its valuation north of $100 billion — more than Ford or General Motors. But the stock, which hit a high of $179.47 in mid-November, has fallen sharply this year amid the slow ramp-up, closing at $38.23 per share Monday and cutting Rivian’s market cap to about $34 billion.

In February, Rivian brought in a new vice president of manufacturing operations at its Normal plant, replacing Erik Fields with Tim Fallon, both former Nissan executives.

While the company is building a second $5 billion assembly plant in Georgia to keep up with anticipated future demand, the pressure to ramp up now is on in Normal, creating a top-down mission across the entire workforce to launch the EV maker into full production.

“It’s almost like we’re trying to get to the moon,” said Victor Taylor, senior director of stamping, body and plastic at the Rivian plant, one of several executives helping lead last week’s tour.

Mitsubishi opened the Normal plant in 1988. In its heyday, it produced more than 200,000 vehicles per year, while staffing levels reached about 4,000. When the Mitsubishi plant closed amid waning production in July 2015, it left 1,100 people out of work.

 

Scaringe, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate with a doctorate in mechanical engineering, founded Rivian in 2009, and found a production home in Normal after visiting the shuttered plant about 130 miles south of Chicago in 2016.

Having an idled auto assembly talent pool was another asset for Scaringe, who ended up buying the factory for $16 million from a liquidation firm in January 2017. The company has gone from 300 employees in Normal to more than 5,200 in about two years.

Construction has begun to expand the 3.3 million-square-foot factory to 4 million square feet by the fourth quarter, which will increase production capacity to 200,000 vehicles per year, Scaringe said. It will also require more assembly workers.

Cindy Nicola, vice president of talent acquisition at Rivian, said the company plans to hire as many as 1,500 additional manufacturing employees at the plant by the end of the year. The starting salary is $20 an hour, and the assembly line already includes dozens of former Mitsubishi autoworkers, Nicola said.

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