Mysterious Electric Car Startup Rivian Buys Former Mitsubishi Factory in Illinois

A little-remembered EV maker has emerged from the woodworks with ambitious plans for the $100 million facility.

Who saw that coming? A little-known Florida electric carmaker known as Rivian Automotive is about to become the owner of a former $100 million Mitsubishi factory in the American heartland. 

Rivian Automotive, which started in 2009 as Mainstream Motors, completed the purchase of 2.4-million-square-foot plant in Normal, Illinois last month, and plans to invest $175 million and hire up to 1,000 people through 2024 to build its yet-to-be-revealed electric vehicle. The Normal city council voted to give the buyer a $1 million grant and tax abatements to facilitate the transaction, according to Teslarati

The former Mitsubishi plant received $100 million in upgrades to support the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and at its peak employed 3,000 people, but shuttered in 2016 due to disappointing sales. Rivian's unnamed electric vehicle is expected to enter production in 2019.

There is a lot of mystery around the company, which operated in stealth mode until last year. Rivian was founded by R.J. Scaringe as a spin-off of Mainstream Engineering in 2009, and originally planned to develop a mid-engine rear-wheel-drive sports coupe that achieved 60 mpg using a conventional gasoline engine. The company changed its name to Azera, and again to Rivian Automotive in 2012 to avoid a costly trademark infringement lawsuit with Hyundai Motors, which felt the newcomer's name was too similar to the name of its Azera sedan.

Rivian received $1.5 million from the state-funded Space Florida organization, and a $2 million grant from the Florida Office of Energy to build a lightweight modular prototype vehicle, which it delivered to NASA in 2012, and subsequently was leased it back to Rivian for additional research, according to an article once published on FloridaToday.com and republished on a news aggregation site. The company planned to release a vehicle in 2012; however, Rivian reportedly revised its strategy based on changing market conditions and product strategy. After completing its contract with Space Florida, the automotive brand relocated to Michigan in 2015.

There is little public information on what the company has been doing in its Livonia, Mich. headquarters, and the company did not respond to The Drive's request for comment by the time of publication. Rivian's recently-updated website focuses on the company's "flexible" electric vehicle platform, and states it is designed to "achieve increased utilization through various forms of sharing."

Electric vehicle start-ups certainly aren't new—witness Lucid Motors and Faraday Future revealing their 1,000-horsepower luxury EVs in the last few months. But what may set Rivian Automotive apart from other competitors is that the company may not plan on challenging Tesla directly. In its earlier iterations, Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe always intended to deliver a low-cost vehicle in the $25,000-$28,000 range.