Amazon calls on Madison Heights delivery drivers to help design Rivian electric vans

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
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Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Inc.’s $440 million investment into Rivian that will accelerate the production of electric vehicles.

Drivers for a Madison Heights delivery company that contracts with worked with the e-commerce giant and a Plymouth-based electric vehicle startup to design its new delivery vans.

Amazon, which has invested $440 million into Rivian, in September said it also would purchase 100,000 electric vans from the automaker by 2030, the largest order of electric vehicles in automotive history and a major boon for the manufacturer that took over the former Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plant in Normal, Illinois. The new vans are expected to start hitting the road next year.

A clay mockup of the Rivian van being made for Amazon sits behind a model.

"Amazon's on the cutting edge no matter how good they already are," said Ed Ferns, owner of Hawkinson LLC, which launched in October and delivers solely for Amazon. The vans are "built specifically for what our drivers do."

Amazon negotiates discounts with entrepreneurs on customized vehicles designed for its delivery. Hawkinson drivers recently visited Rivian's design studio in Plymouth where they had the chance to see a clay model of the vans and experience their interior in virtual reality.

"It was mind-blowing," driver Natasha Riggins said. "It started to bring it to life. It just had many different features that a lot of the drivers would be appreciated: the heated steering wheel and seats since the weather changes from hot and cold."

The vehicles also will include a screen that allows drivers to access the delivery app they use, more space to move around and new storage units to help keep packages organized. Rivian engineers also went on ride-alongs to understand how Amazon's current fleet can be improved.

“The vehicle is being designed for the driver," Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe said in a statement. "And through the process we’ve had them in to provide feedback and each time we learned something new and we made adjustments. And when they come back, they see those adjustments. That iterative loop has been really critical.”

Now drivers like Devon Cooper are waiting in anticipation: "I can’t wait to drive one."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

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