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Autos

Amazon’s order of 100,000 Rivian vans signals the automaker is ‘for real’

Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe
Rivian Automotive, led by R.J. Scaringe, is aiming to launch its R1T plug-in pickup and R1S sport utility vehicle late next year.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If investments from Amazon.com Inc. and Ford Motor Co. weren’t reason enough to take note of Rivian Automotive Inc., a six-figure order announced Thursday by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has elevated the electric-vehicle start-up — all before its first mass-produced truck or SUV has rolled off the assembly line.

The billionaire announced plans Thursday to buy 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, custom-built for Amazon Prime deliveries, as part of an Amazon environmental initiative designed to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord 10 years early. The deal follows a $700-million investment in Rivian that the online retailer led in February.

The order is a major coup for a company that is aiming to launch its R1T plug-in pickup and R1S sport utility vehicle late next year. Although financial terms of the deal weren’t released, Amazon’s planned purchase positions Rivian with a major customer well before CEO R.J. Scaringe begins to test the waters with consumers who’ve been slow to go electric. Segment leader Tesla Inc. didn’t deliver more than 100,000 vehicles in a year until 2017, almost a decade after the arrival of its debut model, the Roadster.

“It’s a very significant deal,” Mike Ramsey, an automotive analyst with consultant Gartner Inc., said of Bezos’ announcement. “It means we have a new automaker, for real.”

At the LA CoMotion mobility conference, R.J. Scaringe was introduced as “the version of Elon Musk you’d want your daughter to marry.”
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Amazon plans to start making deliveries with Rivian vans in 2021. By late the following year, Rivian expects to have 10,000 vehicles on the road, said Amy Mast, a spokeswoman for the carmaker. The vans will be built at the company’s plant in Normal, Ill., bought years ago from Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Amazon’s vehicles will share key components with the R1T and R1s, including the battery, but the vans will have a unique body, interior and software, Mast said.

Two months after Amazon announced its investment in Rivian, Ford said it would inject $500 million. This month, the company took in $350 million from Cox Automotive, the owner of online car-shopping sites Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book and vehicle auction firm Manheim.

“With the big investments from companies like Ford and Amazon, are we witnessing a new business model for a different kind of company in the auto industry?” Ramsey said of Rivian. “It’s a contract manufacturer that also has its own product.”


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