Amazon leads £544 million investment in EV start-up Rivian

Online retail giant helps take fledgling American manufacturer's total investment to around £894.5 million.

By Mark Tisshaw, Autocar UK calendar 18 Feb 2019 Views icon10898 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Online retail giant Amazon has led a $700 million (£544m) round of investment in American electric car start-up Rivian.

The fledgling manufacturer has attracted big interest since its public debut at the 2018 Los Angeles motor show. Today's round, which includes investment from existing shareholders, brings the total raised by the company to around $1.15 billion (£894.5m/ Rs 8,205 crore). 

According to news reports, Rivian is currently in discussions with General Motors (GM) to secure further investment. If a deal is secured, it's understood that GM would be listed as minority shareholder and Rivian would be valued at between $1bn (Rs 7,135 crore) and $2bn  (Rs 14,271 crore) (£778m and £1.56bn). It will remain an independent company.

Rivian is aiming to bring the first electric pick-up truck to market. It only announced itself to the world last year despite having been developing and producing electric platforms since 2009. 

Rivian R1S SUV and R1T pick-up aim to shake up the 4x4 market
Rivian is hoping to have the kind of impact Tesla has made in shaking up the established automotive set and believes it has found a niche with the creation of go-anywhere electric vehicles.

The R1T pick-up and R1S seven-seat SUV, the first and second in a series of models eventually planned, are built on a bespoke electric ‘skateboard’ chassis that is modular and can be used on all different types and sizes of vehicles. The initial pair are closely related, the chief difference being a slightly shorter wheelbase in the R1S. The R1S is 5040mm long, making it Range Rover-sized, while the 5465mm-long R1T is marginally longer than the Mercedes-Benz X-Class.

In both cars, the lithium-ion battery pack is mounted in the floor. The R1T is good for a 230-mile (370 km) range in its standard 105kWh capacity, a 300-mile range (482 km) with a 135kWh battery pack, or up to 400 miles (643 km) with a 180kWh ‘mega-pack’. In the R1S, the same battery packs are offered with ranges of 240, 310 and 420 miles (386 km, 498 km and 675 km) respectively.

The two models share their drivetrains, too. Four electric motors, one for each wheel, give them four-wheel drive. Each motor produces 197bhp (total combined figures through the gearbox are 754bhp and 826lb ft in the 135kWh version), which allows for prodigious performance. It’s claimed both vehicles can crack 0-60mph (0-100 kph) in just 3.0sec and 0-100mph (0-160 kph) in less than 7.0sec in the 135kWh versions.

Double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension features, alongside air springs and adaptive dampers. Rivian claims the electric drivetrain and chassis set-up allows for both impressive on-road performance and handling and precise off-road control that surpasses any existing mechanical solutions. Its flat floor is also reinforced with carbon fibre and Kevlar to protect the battery pack, while both models get five-star crash test safety ratings in the US.

A distinctive front-end exterior design appears on both cars, while the spacious interiors get premium but durable materials that are easy to clean, in keeping with the cars’ off-road lifestyle brief. Two screens feature inside, running Rivian’s own software and graphics.

There are packs of novel hidden features and clever solutions in both models, including a 330-litre front storage under the nose, and the pick-up has a full-width storage compartment between the rear doors and rear wheels that’s good for housing golf clubs.

Rivian, first formed in 2009, is looking to do things differently from other start-ups by having its entire business plan and funding in place before going public with its intentions, and even then keeping targets conservative.

Company founder and CEO RJ Scaringe has already gone through two stillborn versions of the R1T to get to this third, production-ready version.

The US-based company is backed by investors from the Middle East, and employs some 750 people worldwide. Its design and engineering centre is based in Plymouth, Michigan, and other key sites include a battery development facility in Irvine, California. It has opened an advanced engineering centre in Chertsey, Surrey, too.

Manufacturing will take place at an old Mitsubishi plant in Illinois, bought by Rivian for $16 million (£12.5m/ Rs 114 crore) last year. This has a capacity of up to 350,000 units per year.

Rivian’s ambitions are much lower than that initially, with plans to be selling some 50,000-60,000 of its premium electric off-roaders by 2025-2026. It does, however, plan to offer its electric skateboard chassis to other companies – either car makers or any brand looking to launch an electric car – as long as their products don't compete with Rivian’s own. The R1T will go into production in late 2020 with the R1S in early 2021, the former priced from around $70,000 (£55,000/ Rs 50 lakh). Right-hand drive production for the UK will follow around a year later.

Also read: GM and Amazon look to invest in EV start-up Rivian

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