LOS ANGELES — Mike O'Grady thinks Rivian's R1T pickup truck will not only turn heads but also change minds.
"We've always heard the negatives: 'They're never going to make it,'" he said of the electric car startup that bought the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in Normal. "But people here took a leap of faith with them, and we're starting to see the benefits. ...
"We're going to have believers now."
Rivian, which plans to hire as many as 1,000 employees to manufacture "electric adventure" vehicles in the Twin Cities, unveiled its first model 2,000 miles away as the Los Angeles Auto Show revved up Monday.
"It's a great product. While niche, I think it's breaking some new ground in the automotive world," said Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who attended Rivian's event at the Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood. "Rivian had been so silent because they were working out their business plan. ... They wanted to come out publicly with a stellar product, and I think they've done that."
The company plans to reveal its R1S sport utility vehicle at an event Tuesday. O'Grady, interim CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said local officials are talking to Rivian about showing off the vehicles in Bloomington-Normal soon — possibly in January, said Koos.
The truck is expected to travel between 250 and 400 miles on a single charge, depending on the model, and includes not only a truck bed but a "frunk" — front trunk — and "gear tunnel" for extra storage between the passenger doors and rear tires. It's expected to tow up to 5,000 kilograms, or more than 11,000 pounds.
Rivian touted not only the vehicle's speedy start — from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds and 0 to 100 in seven — but also the "skateboard platform" that lets the vehicle elevate to avoid off-road obstacles.
Koos said the town is among those who've already preordered a vehicle. The R1T starts at $61,500, with three differently priced models depending on features, and requires a $1,000 reservation payment. It launches in 2020.
"I think it will fit into our fleet, and it's showing Rivian we appreciate they're in our community and we're committed to them," said Koos. "We're looking forward to showing it off in the community."
Koos predicted the truck, which will be sold at a factory store in Normal, will be popular for Bloomington-Normal residents despite the steep price tag. He noted many, including him, bought Mitsubishi's iMiev electric sedan; the town has electric vehicle charging ports at Uptown Station.
Koos and O'Grady said Rivian has already exceeded its benchmarks for a full property tax abatement at the plant for 2018, investing $10 million and employing 35 people. The plant has 60 workers.
Rivian has about 600 across not only Normal but also facilities near Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The company was required to hire 500 locally and invest $40.5 million by the end of 2021 to receive hundreds of thousands in local tax breaks, plus a $1 million Normal grant, and plans to hire 1,000 locally over a decade to receive about $50 million in state income tax credits.
Koos said the company may employ 500 when it reaches full production in 2020. The R1T is expected to enter test production next year and full production the next, with the R1S to follow.
"It will never be as populated as the Mitsubishi plant, but it'll certainly be high production," said Koos.
Mitsubishi employed about 3,000 in Normal at its peak. The plant had 1,200 employees when it shut down in November 2015.
Rivian paid $16 million for the plant in 2017.
"Companies who will be feeding materials to Rivian are starting to talk to the EDC about workforce and location. ... That could mean additional employment here," said O'Grady. "It's an exciting day for the Bloomington-Normal community, and only more good things are going to come from it."