Rivian, a year later.

On March 31 of 2022, I took delivery of a Rivian Truck at the factory in Normal, IL. Nearly a year later, on March 24 of 2023, I took delivery of a Rivian SUV at the same factory. The differences I saw in a single year are astounding, and perhaps even worth writing about.

*writer’s note: Rivian generally calls this location a “plant”, and various publications seem to use “plant” and “factory” interchangeably. Rivian’s own website gave me the option for “factory delivery”, adding to the confusion of what to call this manufacturing facility. I guess “plant delivery” sounds like something FTD does. I digress. I’m just going to call it a factory.

Factory The Rivian factory (or plant), in 2019. Photo by me.

I should note my biases up front.

I was born 30 miles from Rivian’s factory, in Peoria, IL, and the majority of my family still lives in the area. I knew people who worked at Diamond-Star Motors, a now defunct joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi that owned and operated the factory where Rivian now produces vehicles. After the factory closed in 2015, the exit signs on I-74 labeled “Mitsubishi Motorway” became a sad reminder of a closed facility. I even remember driving by some time later and seeing a lot full of cars, only to discover upon closer inspection that the parking lots were now being used to store some of the VW “dieselgate” vehicles, due for destruction.

I am absolutely rooting for Rivian, but I’m not giving anyone a free pass. Success is never assured, but I see a company that is doing a lot of good things, and I hope that is rewarded with future success.

Factory Delivery, ca. 2022

In early 2022, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to be added to a “friends & family” list, which might result in getting a Rivian sooner than expected. The caveat was that I needed to be flexible on colors and equipment, because my exact configuration might not be available. I jumped at the chance, and gave my top three color choices (Launch Green, Rivian Blue, El Cap Granite, btw), and said I’d be happy with “any wheel combo as long as there are four and they match”.

Fast forward (slightly) to March 31, 2022. It was a rainy Thursday morning, and I had traveled home to pick up my brand new Rivian. I was obviously excited, because I chose the very first available time slot, at 8 AM. I walked in and was instantly hit with the smell of fresh brewed Coffee Hound coffee. The lobby is beautiful, and the end of the production line is situated directly behind the reception desk. You get to see just-finished Rivian trucks and vans rolling off the line, which is ridiculously cool.

I checked in at reception, and took a seat in the lounge area nearby. They were nearly ready for me, but I was free to check out the small on site shop and hang out until the delivery folks were ready for me. After a short wait, I was greeted and hopped into an R1T parked at the front doors, and was driven to the delivery center, just behind the factory. Things were obviously hectic, as they had even pulled in a number of people to help with this sorta-kinda ad-hoc delivery event. The truck was actually outside, because they were planning for so many deliveries.

My Blue R1T, (almost) ready to roll.

I was shown the truck, and went in to sign some papers, eager to hit the road. Because the delivery center is within the plant operations area, a Rivian employee actually drives you out to the front entrance in your new vehicle. We had a quick chat, and I was excited to be on my way. We reached the front of the factory, and he offered to take a photo of me with the new truck. My grin looks so stupid that I’m not going to share the photo, but just know that I was certainly happy.

I guess we’re doing a tour?

Just after the photo, as I’m about to be on my way, someone comes out the front door, slightly rushed, and says “RJ called an audible, and apparently we’re doing tours. Do you want to stick around for one?” I jumped at the chance, and drove my just delivered truck about 100 meters (c’mon let’s just use metric) to the parking spots nearby.

My first drive was from the front doors in the background to here. It was still exciting.

I walked back in and was told we’d be waiting for a few more folks to show up from delivery. I was introduced to Curtis, who offered me a complimentary coffee. Curtis actually stood in line with me and we chatted the whole time. He is obviously excited about the company, and is a smart, nice, and generally awesome person.

Soon approx 7 of us gathered near the interior glass doors to take the first ever factory tour. (What?!) Safety glasses were provided. Apparently, some customers had seen the factory from the catwalk, but at that point the catwalk only ran along the front wall of the building, so not a lot was visible. Our group was actually going to walk on the factory floor, alongside the actual workers. There was a photographer and approx as many handlers as there were customers on the tour. This was very very ad-hoc, which added to the fun.

As we walked in, I remember the leader of the tour saying something like “I am not sure what we’re allowed to show you, so we will just go until they make us turn around.” I live for this kind of thing.

We walked past a just built R1S (SUV) with approx 10 engineer-types scrutinizing it, half with open laptops balanced on an arm. I believe this was one of the very first R1S to come off of the line. I don’t know if it was even a production vehicle, tbh.

As we passed the R1S, we saw an Amazon branded delivery van directly in front of us. We got an up close look at the van, which is produced alongside the Rivian truck and suvs, in this factory. Again the tour leader seemed unsure what we were allowed to see, so we all promised we wouldn’t tell on him, and carried on.

We turned right and walked to the area where the glass is attached to the vehicles. On this particular day, the line was barely moving, if at all. Most stations were unoccupied, but we did get to say hi to the person who installed our windshields. (not kidding) Our guide told us that the production process was very manual in some areas. To be quite honest, that made me uneasy. I was rooting for this company, and wasn’t going to go telling people they are hand building parts of the vehicle, but I did wonder if I had just purchased a limited edition collectible.

The tour continued, as tours do, and we saw where the IP (instrument panel) is mated to the vehicle body, and a glimpse of the spot where the skateboards are married to the vehicles. There was so so much Launch Green with Black Mountain interior, and no Limestone whatsoever. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of the tour, and I’ve forgotten plenty, but it was worth doing, and I feel lucky to have had this early look at the start of production.

A year with the R1T

The Truck has been great. I put 21,000+ miles on it in under a year. I’ve done truck things like towing and getting dirty, and it is the most fun vehicle I’ve ever owned. Everything, including the automatic tonneau cover, works just fine. There are plenty of reviews and videos online, so I’ll just share a few of my favorite photos and get on with things.

Driving toward California, less than a week after delivery

Dirty truck, less than a week after delivery

Moving East, electrically

All roads lead back to Normal

As much as I love the truck, the Rivian SUV (R1S), probably makes more sense for me. A truck bed is handy, but when I am hauling around my absurd number of 3d printers and various gadgets, I need enclosed space. I also do enjoy the occasional car camping excursion, and you can’t really sleep inside the truck comfortably.

Just after I picked up the R1T, I was assigned a new guide, Justin. He’s been an absolute pleasure to work with, and is exactly what a Rivian Guide should be. I’m lucky to have been assigned to him, and appreciate him putting up with me checking in every few months. In mid March, I was given access to the R1 shop, which allows you to select already-built vehicles that don’t have an owner assigned. Within five minutes of being given access, I had selected a Limestone R1S with Forest Edge interior. It was close to what I had configured, with the only major change being the interior color.

The purchasing process and delivery were so much more refined than the first time. It was all straightforward and the glitches I had with the website last March were gone. I happened to be home visiting, which made the timing perfect. I was just down the road from the factory, and after selecting my configuration, I only had to wait three days until taking delivery of my second Rivian.

Second delivery

I selected 9:30 AM delivery on a Friday, but for some reason I declined the factory tour. I was excited to get the vehicle and be on my way, since I’d already seen the factory. I arrived and was greeted by this sign.

Cute sign

They were nearly ready for me, but it would be a few minutes. I texted my guide, Justin, to see if he had a minute to come down to say hi. On the way over that morning, I brought a box of baked goods from Trefzger’s Bakery in Peoria to say thanks for being generally awesome. (Side note: a friend of mine said that was very thoughtful of me. I replied, “Sometimes things can be both thoughtful AND a bribe.”) Justin came down and was awesome to chat with in person.

And guess who else I saw? Curtis! We chatted and I said, “I remember you from last year. I was on the very first tour!”. Curtis told me that they still talk about that day and how crazy it was. It was nice to see a familiar face. I told him I had declined the tour this time, but he insisted I should check it out to see how much has changed. My arm was twisted.

We did the coffee thing again and chatted, and then Curtis drove me back to pick up my new R1S. The delivery folks were, once again, great, and gave me a quick tour of the differences between my truck and the SUV. Some paperwork was signed, and I was driven back to the front. Curtis was there, and I told him I’d just hang out in the coffee shop until the tour began. He said there was only one other person for that slot and they probably couldn’t do it, and that turned out to be the case. I was getting a personal tour with Curtis!

What a difference a year makes

In the year since I was last there, the factory has grown, as has the catwalk. It now extends throughout the major areas of the plant, so tours now happen from up high, with a view of more of the potentially hazardous areas that you wouldn’t want random people to walk through. I was astounded at the progress. I cannot understate this. The primary reason I wrote this article was because I am in awe of how much Rivian has already grown up. I was fortunate to have Curtis as my tour guide, because he was able to point out all of the differences from the first time I visited.

There are so many more robots doing robot things. The person who installed my windshield now supervises a robot that does the job. The robotic body assembly is a must see in any car factory, and this didn’t disappoint. Stamped pieces were welded together with precision, and tool changing robots did multiple jobs quickly and repeatably.

The sheer number of vehicles being made was the biggest takeaway for me. A year ago, this felt like a bespoke factory, hand building tens of vehicles a day. Today, it feels like a production facility that has learned to scale. I am glad I took the tour a second time, because I am more optimistic about Rivian’s future than I’ve ever been.

Staying adventurous

I am excited about this company. Last year, I was excited to get one of the early trucks, but left feeling nervous about the future of the company that made it. In just one year, I’ve seen firsthand how much they’ve refined and improved, and that nervousness is gone. My truck had some rough edges, all of which have been fixed, and none of which hindered its operation. The refinements they’ve made in the last year meant that this new Rivian has none of the small issues my original had. Figuring out how to produce something as complex as a vehicle is an enormous undertaking, but they are doing it. I think the future at Rivian is bright.

Yes, it is great

writer’s note: I don’t generally invest in individual stocks, but after this experience, I’m going to.