The skateboard and body components are being assembled at an Illinois plant that previously built Mitsubishi cars. That a startup would manufacture its vehicles domestically is curious for a few reasons. First, uncertainty around trade agreements like NAFTA has been looming for years. A reversal could adversely affect an established automaker's supply chain, to say nothing of a startup like Rivian, whose production scale measures in thousands, rather than millions.
Labor costs are also higher here than abroad. That hasn't deterred Scaringe, however. "Domestic manufacturing is not something that makes it impossible to be profitable in the market here," he said. Scaringe added that China isn't as cheap as it used to be for labor. Plus, once a Chinese-built vehicle is finished, you still need to ship it halfway around the world. As such, Scaringe says that, wherever you're selling, it makes more sense to manufacture locally.
Unions are another reason automakers might choose to manufacture abroad. After all, Rivian has a location in Detroit, a historically pro-labor city, and its manufacturing plant is a few hours away from another blue-collar metropolis: Chicago. Tesla and many other tech companies are vehemently anti-union, often claiming that organized labor stifles innovation and drives up costs. Rivian employees haven't unionized yet. As the company grows, Scaringe said it will work with employees and the local community to "determine the best course of action" in terms of organized labor.
Scaringe has plans to license the chassis out to others, similar to what BMW does with its i-Series. That's in addition to offering its AI-controlled battery cells to agriculture and commercial companies like John Deere that need electrification but don't want to sink millions into developing their own platforms.
Scaringe says that, unlike other mobility startups, Rivian isn't angling to be acquired. The company has a plan for fully autonomous vehicles based on its skateboard platform, in addition to second-gen models of the A1T and A1C. He encourages his team to "have fun" and imagine what the future of the platform may be, and designers have already dreamed up concepts like an off-road motorcycle.* He wouldn't mind Rivian becoming a tier-one supplier along the lines of Bosch or Fisher, though, with its chassis and batteries powering everything from school buses to flatbeds and forklifts. "We're going to be working very hard to get the battery module into as many things as we can," Scaringe said.
Rivian's 2020 launch target is just over 18 months away. In that time, the company needs to finish drivable concept vehicles for the LA Auto Show, build demand for its luxury off-road trucks, open a Tesla-like dealership network along the coasts and earn consumer trust. Scaringe is pragmatic about the latter. He says Rivian has been operating in stealth mode for the past six years to keep public expectations low. Now, six months from Rivian's world debut, with nearly finished models and a finalized chassis, Scaringe is ready to start talking. The question is whether anyone will listen come November.