Stealth EV startup Rivian adds McLaren and Nike execs to lead development

Rivian, the stealthy, Michigan-based electric vehicle (EV) startup, is taking large steps forward in their new vehicle development program. The company recently added two new executives, Mark Vinnels and Rob Williams.

Mark Vinnels joined Rivian in November as Executive Director of Engineering and Programs, and oversees the development of Rivian’s vehicle platform. Vinnels was formerly the Executive Director of Product Development and Programme Director at McLaren Automotive. Vinnels joined McLaren in 2004 to lead the development of McLaren’s first road car since the infamous F1. Before joining McLaren, Vinnels was head of Lotus’s new vehicle programs and oversaw the Elise, Exige, and Europa new vehicle lines. Vinnels is also credited for his instrumental role in the development of GM’s Family 1 engine program.

Mark Vinnels, Rivian’s new Executive Director of Engineering & Programs at Rivian Automotive. (Credit McLaren Automotive)

While at McLaren, Vinnels helped the company grow its engineering division from roughly 50 engineers to 550 and significantly increased its vehicle lineup.

Rivian’s team also includes another former McLaren executive, Anthony Sheriff, who joined Rivian’s Board of Directors in 2016. Sheriff was the Managing Director of McLaren Automotive from 2003-2013, a period in which McLaren created a road car division in addition to the company’s rich history in the automotive racing arena. Sheriff was an executive at Fiat before his tenure at McLaren and also sits on the Board of Directors for electric supercar manufacturer Rimac.

Also joining Rivian is Rob Williams as Chief Creative Officer. Williams carries experience from both the automotive industry and the footwear industry. He was most recently a Senior Design Director of Footwear at Nike and spent four-and-a-half years at Chrysler. During his time as a product designer at Chrysler, he led several designs of Chrysler SUVs and Dodge Trucks.

Williams joins Jeff Hammoud, Director of Vehicle Design. Hammoud has extensive experience at Fiat-Chrysler and left the company as Chief of Design of the Jeep Brand. Hammoud joined Rivian in May 2017, followed by Williams in June.

Based on a combination of the design team’s backgrounds and patents released by Rivian last summer, it appears that Rivian’s first vehicle could be some sort of SUV. An in-depth analysis of Rivian’s design team members’ LinkedIn profiles reveals that nearly half of the team has experience with Fiat Chrysler Automotive (Formerly Chrysler), with many specializing in SUV/Truck designs.

Rivian’s Patent for “Reconfigurable Electric Vehicles”. It’s worth noting that patents do not usually reflect a vehicle’s actual planned design, rather the mechanism that the company is patenting. (Credit: Public Patent Filing)

Rivian currently has 225 employees, up from 115 at the start of the year. Other notable additions to Rivian’s team include 15 former Faraday Future employees. Faraday Future is nearly defunct after it continued to miss its wildly ambitious goals and saw its main financier’s global expansion fall apart. Most of the team from Faraday is working on Rivian’s autonomous driving technology or other highly technical roles.

The timeline for Rivian’s massive 2.6 million-square-foot manufacturing facility on the west side of Normal is still unknown. Rivian purchased the factory in January 2017 for $16 million, including all of the contents in the factory.

While Rivian hasn’t revealed many details about the development of its all-electric vehicle platform, the company revealed today that it has received a large strategic investment from New York-based Sumitomo Corporation of Americas (SCOA).

Rivian’s CEO RJ Scaringe couldn’t comment directly on the details of the investment, but did say the following to AdaptBN: “We are honored and excited to have Sumitomo as a strategic investor. Their global reach, expertise, and network in the automotive sector will help us in executing our vision. This investment reflects the result of our team’s hard work in developing our technology and products.”

Due to the level of mystery surrounding Rivian’s plans and product line, local residents and officials have begun comparing it to the likes of “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.” But only time will tell if Rivian holds a golden ticket to the future.

Updated December 12@12:20pm PST: A correction was made to reflect Rivian’s current employee count.
Stealth EV startup Rivian adds McLaren and Nike execs to lead development
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