Electric pickup maker Rivian gets $700M from Amazon, others

The R1T

Plymouth-based electric pickup truck start-up Rivian Automotive LLC said Friday it's getting a $700 million cash injection led by Amazon.com Inc.

Earlier this week, reports circulated that both Amazon and General Motors Co. were planning to take minority stakes in Rivian. Talks between GM and Rivian are ongoing, a person familiar with the negotiations said Friday, though an announcement is likely further out.

The investment comes largely from online retail giant Amazon, with "participation from existing shareholders," Rivian said in a statement.

Rivian employees eat lunch at the company's engineering center in Plymouth.

"This investment is an important milestone for Rivian and the shift to sustainable mobility," said R.J. Scaringe, Rivian founder and CEO. "Beyond simply eliminating compromises that exist around performance, capability and efficiency, we are working to drive innovation across the entire customer experience. Delivering on this vision requires the right partners, and we are excited to have Amazon with us on our journey to create products, technology and experiences that reset expectations of what is possible."

Amazon said in a statement it values Rivian's vision.

Rivian got attention at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November when it showed a stylish prototype of its fully electric R1T pickup, expected to launch in the U.S. in late 2020. The electric-truck prototype was more fully developed than anything presented by a major automaker in recent years.

The R1S

The start-up automaker says its R1T pickup and R1S SUV will have a 400-mile-plus range, and offer off-road capability.  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. The company plans to build 20,000 units in 2021 in Normal, Illinois.

Battery-electric pickups are part of future plans for at least two of the world's largest automakers, GM and Ford Motor Co., each of which sells hundreds of thousands of full-size pickups each year. 

GM is pushing toward an all-electric future, promising 20 new zero-emission vehicles by 2023 and restructuring its business to redirect capital toward electric and autonomous ventures. GM has an existing relationship with Amazon as one of two automakers piloting in-vehicle package delivery. 

Employees approach the front entrance of electric truck start-up Rivian Automotive's engineering center in Plymouth. Rivian is getting a $700-million cash injection led by Amazon.com Inc. to build their vehicles in Normal, Illinois.

A tie-up between Rivian and Amazon is a good fit, said Michelle Krebs, an automotive analyst for Cox Automotive. As Amazon looks for ways to reinvent its delivery fleet, Rivian's "electric-powered skateboard concept" offers potential for electric delivery vans.

"The investment is a drop in the bucket for Amazon, but it is huge for Rivian in terms of the amount of money and in terms of raising the profile of Rivian," Krebs said. "Electric vehicles for fleets makes more sense than individual ownership as routes, with charging stations strategically located, can be planned to optimize charging and range."

The Detroit News reported Tuesday that Rivian could see billion-dollar investments from Amazon and GM. Rivian and GM issued statements then 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. A Rivian spokesperson said: "We respect GM's vision of the future of mobility but have no immediate comment on this story."

Amazon at that time did not comment.

GM CEO Mary Barra sidestepped a question from an investor last week about an electric pickup in GM's future. "You will have to stay tuned," she said.

Rivian's previous financing "totaled approximately $450 million," a spokesman said Friday.

Rivian employees work with each other in open spaces near 'The Kitchen' at the electric truck maker's engineering center in Plymouth.

Tesla Inc., the company many credit with bringing electric vehicles to the mainstream, has said it's planning an electric pickup, though it's unclear when that could launch.

Rivian currently has a team of about 750 people across offices in Plymouth, San Jose, California, Irvine, California, and Surrey, England, in addition to the manufacturing facility. Half of the employees — including industry luminaries like ex-McLaren director of engineering Mark Vinnels and ex-Jeep design chief Jeff Hammoud — are located in Plymouth.


Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau