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The hottest thing at the Los Angeles Auto Show this year was an electric-truck maker not named Tesla. That may be why General Motors Co. and Amazon.com Inc. are reportedly in talks to take minority stakes in Rivian Automotive LLC.

The Plymouth-based company shocked the industry in Los Angeles with a mature prototype of its R1T pickup that is targeted to hit the market in 2021. Tesla, which has said it is developing an electric pickup, has not showed a prototype.

A potential deal with GM would make a lot of sense, given GM's ambitions in the electric vehicle and autonomous space where it has promised "to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion."

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Details have yet to be finalized, and people familiar with the situation cautioned that no deal is certain. Reuters reported that investments by the two companies would value Rivian at between $1 billion and $2 billion.

Amazon declined comment. Rivian and GM issued statements praising one another without denying the reports: “We admire Rivian’s contribution to a future of zero emissions and an all-electric future," GM said in a statement. And a Rivian spokesperson said: "We respect GM's vision of the future of mobility but have no immediate comment on this story."

The stylish 400-mile-range pickup shown in Los Angeles looked unlike anything else in the market. Rivian promised a roomy battery-in-the-floor, "skateboard" architecture aimed at upscale, outdoorsy customers who buy Range Rovers. Its base $69,000 model boasts clever "frunk" storage behind the grille and a Tesla-like 105-kWh battery. An upscale, $100,000-plus model would increase that to 180 kWh and a range of 400 miles.

But it wasn't just the specs that impressed investors. It was Rivian's mature business model.

Rivian founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe, a 36-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, had assembled a team of 700 employees to work on the Rivian pickup and its sister SUV, the seven-seat R1S. Half of the employees — including industry luminaries like ex-McLaren director of engineering Mark Vinnels and ex-Jeep design chief Jeff Hammoud — were located right under the Detroit Three's noses in Plymouth.

With $450 million raised from a Saudi Arabia-based investment group, Japan’s Su­mitomo and London’s Standard Chartered Bank, he had purchased Mitsubishi's ex-manufacturing plant in Normal, Ill., with plans to pump out 20,000 units in 2021.

Like Tesla, Rivian plans to build a national supercharging network for its vehicles.

A potential investment by GM and Amazon into the electric-pickup maker would be consistent with the companies’ deepening interest in the autonomous vehicle space, especially for the Detroit automaker. And it would continue a quickening trend in the space: partnering with rivals to manage the staggering costs and complexity of development of EVs and autonomous-vehicles, and to move quickly for competitive advantage.

GM is in a race, not just with Tesla but with cross-town rival Ford Motor Co. to create an electric pickup. Pictures of Ford's all-electric pickup have leaked online in recent days.

GM's has consistently followed a strategy of entering into partnerships to push new technology. The company outsourced significant work on its electric Chevrolet Bolt — primarily to LG to develop the electric drivetrain — according to manufacturing consulting firm Munro & Associates.

The Bolt is the cornerstone of GM's Cruise Automation LLC subsidiary, another joint investment with Honda Motor Co. which plans to bring self-driving cars to market later this year.

"Entering partnerships with a company like Rivian would be consistent with GM's 'best-in-breed' outsourcing strategy," says veteran truck expert Andre Smirnov of TFLTruck.com, who cites previous GM truck partnerships for its Duramax engines and Allison transmissions.

Just last week, Aurora Innovation Inc. — an autonomous technology start-up led by Chris Urmson, one of the founders of Google autonomous vehicle unit Waymo — said it had raised $530 million from an investor consortium that included Amazon and Sequoia Capital, which secured a board seat with Aurora.

For GM, an investment in Rivian would extend its record of securing tie-ups to speed its way to realizing its all-electric future. Last May, GM said SoftBank Vision Fund would invest $2.25 billion in its GM Cruise LLC unit to commercialize autonomous-vehicle development. And in October, Honda Motor Co. agreed to invest $2 billion over 12 years to jointly pursue large-scale deployment of self-driving technology.

“Together,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement outlining the Honda partnership, “we can provide Cruise with the world’s best design, engineering and manufacturing expertise, and global reach to establish them as the leader in autonomous vehicle technology — while they move to deploy self-driving vehicles at scale.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

 

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