Normal plant's heyday
During its heyday, the Normal plant, a joint venture of Japan's Mitsubishi Motors and Chrysler formed in the mid-1980s, churned out 200,000 Mitsubishi Gallants, Dodge Avengers and other nameplates a year. Mitsubishi walked away from the plant after employment and production dwindled by two-thirds.
Critics say it consumed $250 million in public subsidies without fulfilling a goal of spurring a local supplier base. Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, who led the charge for the plant, defends the state's $88 million in outlays, which included highway spending he says would have occurred regardless.
The plant also gained notoriety for a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition boycott and a $34 million settlement in 1999 with 450 female workers who claimed they were sexually harassed. The plant was unionized. Scaringe says only that he has had "friendly early discussions" with the UAW. The UAW won't comment.
Rivian says it won't reach maximum production until the late 2020s, with projected employment of at least 1,000, compared with 50 today and 3,000-plus under Mitsubishi. Rivian, for now, is buying -- not making -- the most valued-added components of EVs, the lithium battery cells.
This time around, the state is offering $49.2 million in tax credits over 15 years, tied to the company investing an undisclosed amount and creating 1,000 jobs by the end of 2024.
"Rivian" is a partial anagram of Scaringe's Indian River boyhood locale in Florida, where his engineer father heads a contractor doing defense-industry and other research. His mother was an early-childhood educator. A car buff "probably since before I was walking," Scaringe says he restored vintage Porsches and received a doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan Automotive Laboratory, concentrating on lean manufacturing and drivetrain technology.
He took two stabs at the car market under different company names, initially focusing on building a hyperefficient internal-combustion engine. Some analysts believe EVs will be cheaper than conventional cars by 2025. About half of the cost is the battery, whose price is expected to fall three-quarters by 2030.
To gear up, Rivian hired McLaren Automotive alum Mark Vinnels to head engineering and vehicle programs. The vice president of manufacturing is Matt Tall, who managed a Hummer H2 plant in Mishawaka, Ind. In a sign of the times, China-backed SF Motors is converting the Indiana plant to build EVs.
Gale, 74, godfather of the PT Cruiser, says he was "somewhat responsible" for the Chrysler-Mitsubishi joint venture and its Normal output. Rivian has advantages, he says: "Having come in on the ground floor . . . takes away a huge portion of the cost; you don't have to invest in the tooling."
The industry's new age both excites and worries Gale. "To be totally candid, I don't know where this is all going to go," he says, sure of one thing: "You know those who are there first are going to enjoy differential success."