This editorial appeared in the Sept. 22, 2019, edition of The (Champaign) News-Gazette:

It was just last week that Rivian Automotive, an electric-vehicle startup with a production plant in Normal, announced that Cox Automotive was investing $350 million in its burgeoning enterprise.

The announcement sparked considerable speculation about Rivian's future and its spin-off benefits for East Central Illinois and the entire state. After all, Cox's large investment was preceded by even bigger investments in Rivian by Ford ($500 million) and Amazon ($700 million).

What was speculation about Rivian's future just days ago is now entering the realm of fact about the company's prospects. That's because Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed Sept. 19 that his company plans to buy 100,000 electric delivery vehicles from Rivian as part of its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, up from its level of 40 percent today.

Bezos said it's his hope that Amazon's first electric delivery vans will be on the road by 2021.

News reports indicate the order may well be "the largest ever for electric delivery vehicles."

It's exciting, not just because of the groundbreaking possibilities represented by growing progress on the electric-vehicle front but also because of the potential economic impact.

Think hundreds, perhaps thousands, of good jobs for people who need them. Think about the economic growth and social stability fostered by increased high-level employment. Think about increased tax revenues paid to state and local governments that will allow those entities to fund the high cost of important public services.

It's important not to get too carried away by what's happening. But, with apologies to songwriter Steven Allen, this could be the start of something big.

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Based in Michigan, Rivian was founded just 10 years ago and focuses on what it calls "sustainable transportation."

Working with state officials on a tax-incentive plan, it took over the vacated Mitsubishi plant in 2017, where it employs 130 people.

Its initial production plan is modest by auto-industry standards. Its forecast calls for producing roughly 20,000 vehicles over two years, starting in 2020.

Or maybe there will be more, thanks to orders from companies like Amazon. Perhaps that's why its long-term goal is to produce 250,000 electric pickup trucks and SUVs a year.

Rivian, of course, is not the only manufacturer interested in building electric vehicles to replace internal combustion engines. Indeed, they're involved in a highly competitive race with big and small companies to see who builds the best vehicle the fastest and cheapest.

The winners will have access to a worldwide market and the resulting profits. The losers will go the way of the Packard.

Whatever happens and whoever wins, the benefits vis a vis the economy and the environment will be significant and many.

There is, of course, a long way to go in this groundbreaking pursuit. One can call it "sustainable transportation." Or, to borrow an older phrase, building a better mousetrap.

But the ultimate resource, people's capacity to use their knowledge to achieve great progress, is on display once again.

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