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Henry Payne: Delivering packages in Rivian's Amazon EV truck

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

PONTIAC, Michigan — Coming to your Metro Detroit neighborhood, Inc.’s Rivian electric delivery vans are the culmination of a five-year collaboration between the retail giant and the U.S.-based electric vehicle startup.

Michigan is among the major metropolitan areas receiving 100,000 Rivian Automotive Inc. vans that will both meet Amazon’s goal to fully electrify its delivery fleet and give a crucial shot in the arm to the young automaker. They’re also sci-fi chic.

“My family thinks it’s really cool that I’m driving a Rivian truck,” said Kayla Dudley, 24, of Pontiac, Michigan, as she jumped from her van to make a delivery in a Lake Orion suburb. “It makes me want to get an electric car.”

There’s no denying the cool factor of the sleek, head-turning trucks with their cartoonish, LED-rimmed circular headlights, splashy blue rear doors, Amazon smile logo, and Blade Runner-esque red LED light strip framing the rear. If Tesla Inc. took EVs from nerd-mobile to luxury fashion, then Amazon’s Rivian trucks have brought style to the delivery breadbox.

“I like the acceleration. The truck is so seamless to the driver,” said Dudley, who admitted it takes discipline to maintain the speed limit on her daily chores.

That sci-fi style continues inside the cab with twin, digital tablet displays — a hoodless instrument cluster and huge, 15.6-inch dash-mounted tablet. Beginning her shift on a cool, drizzling April morning in Pontiac, Dudley pulled the charger from her cyborg’s front left charger port, then placed it in the 240-volt charger holder. Where these parking spaces once hosted thousands of Detroit Lions fans at the Pontiac Silverdome, they now hold hundreds of Rivian vans to distribute packages from Amazon’s giant fulfillment center, which sits on a 127-acre site.


It's not the first time a delivery service has made its vans icons. UPS has for decades featured its big brown step vans in marketing campaigns. “The Amazon trucks are popping up on social media everywhere,” said auto analyst Sam Fiorani, vice president of vehicle forecasting for Autoforecast Solutions. “UPS designed a truck that was uniquely UPS and that made their service welcome in neighborhoods.”

Rivian’s operating system seamlessly controls the RDV-700 model van (just as in an R1S SUV), which recognized the key fob in Dudley’s pocket and instantly turned on as she stepped into the airy cabin, the gigantic front windscreen a window to the world. With her delivery route already downloaded on her company phone, she scanned a QR code and the Rivian’s screens wirelessly mirrored the route — just as Apple CarPlay would in a passenger car. Ready to rumble.

“Every QR code is a digital (organizer) for packages, vehicles — to make everything easy to sort in the vans,” Dudley said.

The former Silverdome site is dominated by two massive Amazon buildings: an 823,000-square-foot fulfillment center and 174,000-square-foot delivery center. The fulfillment center — 7,000 robots scurrying across its multiple stories — accesses product inventory which is then sent across the street to the delivery center. Their sheer scale also reminds of a sci-fi movie — the Rivian trucks pouring into the giant structure. Or they might be worker ants scurrying to and from a giant anthill.


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