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Former Mitsubishi plant in Ill. may house startup automaker

John Irwin - December 9, 2016

The former Mitsubishi assembly plant in Normal, Ill., soon could be purchased by little-known startup automotive firm Rivian Automotive.

Rivian is in discussions to buy the plant, which was shuttered in May, and invest up to $175 million in it by 2024 and create 500 jobs by 2021, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said in a news release. It would eventually employ about 1,000 workers, the department said.

“The discussions with Rivian have been positive, and we are progressing towards the goal of bringing this investment to our community,” McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre said in a statement.

A voicemail and email left for Rivian were not immediately returned. The company, founded in 2009 by CEO RJ Scaringe, describes itself in a voicemail recording as “an automotive technology company” focused on developing products for the industry’s shift toward “sustainable mobility.” Scaringe is 33 years old, according to his Wikipedia biography.

'Up to them'
The Pantagraph, a local newspaper, reported Normal Mayor Chris Koos as saying Rivian would manufacture a vehicle “and some associated technology around the platform that they’re working on” at the plant, while noting, “it’s really going to be up to them to say what they’re doing.”

Reuters reported today that Rivian had agreed to purchase the plant, citing an interview with Koos, who said the deal would close Jan. 3.

Jacquelyn Reineke, a spokeswoman for the Illinois DCEO, denied that the plant has been officially purchased.

“The local taxing bodies are still debating incentives for the company before a deal can be reached,” she wrote in an email. “As for state incentives, nothing has been finalized.”

The 508-acre site has sat empty since Mitsubishi closed the plant in May. It was sold to Maynards Industries, an industrial asset auction and liquidation service, in June.

Koos told Reuters that Maynards was planning to auction off the plant’s equipment in September and then raze the building. Those plans were changed when Rivian put up $1 million in “earnest money” on a potential purchase, he said.

Ending production
The plant, which opened in 1988 as a joint venture with Chrysler, was Mitsubishi’s only U.S. factory. Production at the plant, which built the Outlander Sport, totaled just 50,150 vehicles last year before production ceased in November.

It employed about 1,000 workers when the plant closed, a steep decline from the 3,000 people it employed at its peak. The UAW represented the work force.

Rivian was founded in 2009 and employs more than 50 people, according to its LinkedIn profile. “Rivian is creating solutions that redefine traditional automotive economics and remove the pain points of conventional ownership,” the profile says.

Scaringe’s individual profile lists a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but no previous automotive experience.

Rivian COO Gabriel Mesanza previously worked for General Motors and later was a consultant at Deloitte and KPMG, according to his profile, which also lists a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Rivian has recruited several automotive veterans, including Chief Engineer Lawrence Achram, a former Chrysler vice president, and Design Director Larry Erickson, a former designer at GM and Ford Motor Co., according to their LinkedIn profiles.

The company, based near Detroit in Livonia, Mich., said last year it planned on investing $29.5 million in a suburban Detroit r&d center for vehicle development after obtaining a grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund.

Requests for comment from the Bloomington Normal Economic Development Council, Maynards, Rivian and former local union officials were not immediately returned.

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Former Home of Diamond-Star Motors Now Home to a Mystery

By Steph Willems on December 9, 2016

An abandoned assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, could once again become a beehive of car-building activity.

Opened in 1988 as a collaborative effort between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, the plant served as headquarters for a great 1980s corporate relic — Diamond-Star Motors. In its heyday, the facility dutifully cranked out Plymouth Lasers, Mitsubishi Eclipses, and Eagle Talons, before Chrysler lost interest in the 50-50 deal.

Turned over to Mitsubishi in 1995, the plant soldiered on after Diamond-Star Motors bit the dust. What followed was a parade of forgettable nameplates — Mitsubishi Mirage, Eagle Summit, even the Dodge Stratus Coupe — before a final shutdown earlier this year eliminated the last of 1,250 jobs and production of the Outlander Sport.

Now, the 2.4 million square foot plant could soon be home to a shadowy new tenant.

According to Reuters, Detroit-based Rivian Automotive has agreed to purchase the plant and reopen it within five years. Going by Rivian’s website, the only thing we know for sure about the automotive venture is that it’s “coming soon.”

The company, which hasn’t confirmed the purchase, bills itself as an automotive technology venture interested in sustainable mobility. At the helm is CEO RJ Scaringe, who formed the company in 2009.

Still, Normal mayor Chris Koos says it’s a done deal. He told Reuters that Rivian plans to employ a workforce of 500 when the plant reopens in 2021, with that number eventually growing to 1,000 employees. State and local economic development agencies claim Rivian will invest $175 million into the operation by 2024.

In a release issued yesterday, Sean McCarthy, Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce, said, “The auto industry is the fourth largest employer in the state, and this investment gives Illinois a significant presence in the emerging electric vehicle market.”

Though it sounds like a garden-variety mobility technology startup, Rivian seems to want to produce actual vehicles, though it hasn’t mentioned any potential partners or suppliers. What those (clearly electric) vehicles might look like is anyone’s guess. Assuming this gets off the ground, the rolling stock would likely form part of a ride-sharing service.

Electric vehicle and mobility startups are common, but there’s industry brains behind Rivian’s effort. Among them: Lawrence Achram, a former Chrysler vice president, and Larry Erickson, a former designer at General Motors and Ford.

Naturally, the town of Normal has high hopes for the return of factory jobs. However, as we’ve seen with ventures like Faraday Future, the distance between plant announcements and a production vehicle is a vast. RJ Scaringe appeared in the news media back in 2011, promising a Florida-built mid-engined sports car (with an affordable price tag) by 2013.


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Not much on Rivian. Tried searching but anything on them has been posted above. Their website only says Coming soon.
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