Ford's $500 million investment in Rivian, announced in April, came with benefits beyond working capital. "They are supporting us with some of their manufacturing capabilities," Scaringe said. "They have a company called [Troy Design & Manufacturing Co.] that we work with on some of our advanced manufacturing. They do a lot of prototype design and production tool design. It's a very good shop."
Ford also has shared with Rivian some of its manufacturing strategies. "We have had some good information exchanges in terms of how Ford runs some of its plants, and its operating philosophies, looking at how that may or may not translate to our operations," Scaringe said. "It's a really good, healthy relationship with Ford."
Still, Rivian has plenty of obstacles to overcome. Mitsubishi's former work force, for example, may be experienced at building cars and crossovers, but it will need to be trained to assemble battery packs, power electronics and electric drivetrains. The plant also never built aluminum-intensive vehicles, which Rivian's vehicles are.
Amazon's order last month for 100,000 electric delivery vans is designed to serve customers who pay a premium for fast delivery. Amazon is expected to put the first Rivian vans into service in 2021. Tesla's customers have shown they'll forgive a new company for design, manufacturing and software issues, but Rivian may have less room for error with a commercial customer counting on those vans to generate revenue.
The Amazon order, to be spread over three years, ensures steady production at Rivian's plant and likely will help the company reduce costs for batteries and raw materials. But one analyst said Rivian might eventually need more money.
"Tesla raised more than $13 billion and at times had an order book larger than Rivian's, and that's far from a slam dunk; $1.5 billion can evaporate extremely quickly, especially when you have to finish development of a vehicle and retool a factory," said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Navigant Research. "Everything I've seen from RJ Scaringe shows he's much more inclined to bring in the right people and let them do their jobs. With partners like Amazon and Ford, I think there is a much higher likelihood of success."