Electric Car Startup Comes Out of Hiding to Buy Old Mitsubishi Factory

Rivian Automotive's purchase of a shuttered car plant in Illinois could indicate the early days of a second American auto revolution.

<p>Rivian Automoive</p>

In the early days of the 20th century, way before the Big Three emerged, America was home to literally hundreds of small automobile manufacturers, each competing in the lucrative new market for the "horseless carriage."

Could the same thing be happening with electric vehicles in the 21st century? Maybe. A recent and interesting turn of events in Illinois may provide some clues.

The gradually evolving start-up entity currently known as Rivian Automotive has closed a deal to purchase a shuttered Mitsubishi plant in the town of Normal, Illinois. It's the end-game move of a local process that's been playing out for a couple of years now, as the company emerges from "stealth mode" and begins plans to upgrade and modernize the facility. Rivian also launched a new website and introductory video (below).

The company plans to unveil its upcoming line of cars later this year and begin production at the Illinois plant by 2019.

So who's behind this Rivian Automotive, anyway? Plenty of heavy hitters, evidently, although the company has kept a remarkably low profile for years. According to industry reports, the chief engineer of its vehicle program is Lawrence Achram, a former Chrysler executive who led several vehicle programs including the Chrysler 300 and the Crossfire.

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Other top executives include industry veterans from General Motors and Ford. Rivian's founder and CEO, Robert Joseph Scaringe, has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Founded in 2009 as Mainstream Motors, Rivian now operates research facilities outside Detroit and San Francisco.

click to play video

Beyond that, nothing much has been revealed, although Scaringe has hinted in public appearances that Rivian will focus on affordable electric vehicles as opposed to luxury models.

In any case, the purchase of the Mitsubishi plant is good news for Normal. The 2.6 million-square-foot facility previously employed more than 3,000 workers at its peak. It had about 1,200 employees when it shut down in May of last year.

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According to local reports out of Illinois, the new Rivian electric vehicle plant will employ 1,000 people upon start up and the company plans to invest $175 million in the facility over the next several years. Normal's town council awarded Rivian a five-year property tax incentive pact and a $1 million grant, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"We couldn't be more excited to purchase this tremendous facility in the town of Normal," said Scaringe in a press release issued by the State of Illinois. "This location will be crucial to bringing our products to market, and we look forward to being an active part of this vibrant community."

When Tesla got serious about manufacturing, it famously started out by purchasing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant in California. Other electric vehicle startups like Lucid Motors and Faraday Future are building their own factories. The Rivian deal raises further hopes that a second American auto revolution is indeed percolating.

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