But after a recent after-hours tour of Rivian's Plymouth, Mich., engineering and technical center, I'd say Rivian has a fighting chance to prove itself in the marketplace. I don't think it will run out of money before launch, like so many startups.
Though I didn't get a chance to speak with executives or engineers, I can tell you Rivian is a real car company, not an underfunded, overhyped, ego-driven vanity project. And partially bankrolled with a $500 million cash injection from Ford, plus investments from Amazon and others, Rivian should have the resources to deliver a well-made vehicle.
Rivian's vehicle engineering and design center, in suburban Detroit in an old factory that once built cash registers and adding machines, seems out of place for the industrial Midwest. Rivian's tech hub has a very hip vibe to it, with an open kitchen area that has clear glass tubes on the wall filled with cereal. Dinner is catered each night to employees who work late. It has an airy feel, more like a trendy nightclub/art gallery than an engineering and design operation.
Jazzy electronic techno music oozes from speakers in the lobby, and the work areas are open. Most employees sit wherever they want and work on laptops. There are storyboards with early versions of marketing materials and charts, and pictures detailing Rivian's brand mission, target customers and the types of consumer items they buy, from bicycle seats to backpacks and other knickknacks. One long table -- full of outdoor and adventure gear -- looks plucked from the shelves of a Bass Pro Shops store.
Michael McHale, the company's head of corporate communications, shared Rivian's roster of engineering and product development teams. The list contains a deep bench of industry veterans that gives Rivian experienced hands to manage crucial roles — critical for a new automaker.
Mark Vinnels, for example, joined Rivian as executive director of engineering and vehicle programs in 2017 after a successful run at British supercar manufacturer McLaren. At McLaren, Vinnels was executive program director responsible for the company's road cars. Before McLaren, Vinnels worked at Lotus.
Rivian's chief of design, Jeff Hammoud, is a Jeep veteran. He was chief designer for the current Grand Cherokee. Gary Gloceri, a former Magna International engineer, led the development of the Ford Focus Electric powertrain, according to Rivian.
One thing in Rivian's favor: Engineers are keeping things as simple as possible by working with major global suppliers, a smart move. If Rivian buys such things as tie-rod ends, ball joints, fasteners, window regulators and other parts that go in, on and under the vehicle from the industry's top suppliers -- components, systems and technologies that have already been tested to extremes -- no one will care if an F-150 or a Subaru Forester uses the same type of system as long as it works properly.
Crash testing and test driving in the real world ramps up this summer, McHale said. One area of concern, though, is the liquid-cooled battery pack. It contains 7,776 cells that are linked together. Rivian claims it's the world's largest automotive battery pack.
There's a lot that can go wrong there. General Motors, for example, started testing the batteries and the battery pack's thermal management system for the Chevrolet Volt in 2008, almost three years before the car went on sale. And that first-gen Volt had just 288 cells arranged in nine modules.
Hopefully, Rivian will be able to access Ford's product development expertise to solve difficult problems and to conduct thorough testing.
Still, the real test for Rivian comes when the first R1T truck is driven away by a customer. It will be exposed to driving conditions and situations engineers may not have considered.