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BLOOMINGTON — Rivian Automotive's first vehicles to be made in Normal will debut just after Thanksgiving and showcase in the Twin Cities soon after.

"It's really fun to be part of a community you feel and can sense is rooting for you," said Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe of the anticipation building in Bloomington-Normal for the company's products. "It's exciting to know how closely we're being watched, and I say that with a smile."

Scaringe spoke about the company's progress, its vision and its place in McLean County before more than 500 people at Tuesday's Community Leaders Dinner presented by the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington.

Scaringe said the company is working hard to retrofit the Mitsubishi plant to fit its needs, a process expected to take 18 to 24 months and lead into a market debut in 2020. The company now has about 65 employees in Normal.

Bloomington-Normal will be one of the first places to sell the vehicles, thanks to a factory store, Scaringe said to raucous applause, and pre-orders will open shortly after the vehicles debut in November.

Rivian hopes to expand to 100 sales markets within six or seven years of launch.

Scaringe again referred to an approaching "inflection point in the history of the automobile," meaning Rivian thinks of itself as a technology company as much as an automotive manufacturer.

It has about 450 employees nationwide, including in its autonomous driving center in San Jose, Calif., its battery development center in Irvine, Calif., and its automotive development hub in Livonia, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

"In 50 or 100 years, it's indisputable the world will need to transition to things run on electrons from things run on fossil fuels," said Scaringe of the wide applications of its battery technology, which will take its SUV up to 450 miles on a charge and could be used in personal watercraft, snowmobiles and forklifts.

"Being optimized real time, constantly adjusting to be the best battery for me ... increases the health (and life) of the battery," he added.

Scaringe said the company's focus on computer-controlled or aided driving is intended to work all the way from the current limitations of emergency braking or steering to a world 20, 30 or 40 years in the future when cars are completely self-driving.

"This is not a light switch. We won't wake up tomorrow with the car driving itself," said Scaringe, noting cars will need to drive much more safely electronically to prevent the tens of thousands in vehicle fatalities currently recorded with human drivers. "Things have to be orders of magnitude safer than human operation (to become mainstream)."

Scaringe said self-driving cars will free vehicles to function completely differently from how they do now, where a vehicle is owned by a person or group of people and sits unused most of the time.

He imagines a world in which a Rivian vehicle is constantly being hailed and learns from its trips to recommend adventures to passengers.

Scaringe said he's not yet sure when the company will begin talking seriously with United Auto Workers Local 2488, which represented Mitsubishi workers there.

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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