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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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Amazon To Invest In Electric Pickups, SUVs

Amazon.com, Inc., just added electric trucks and SUVs to its broad investment portfolio.

Electric truck and SUV startup Rivian just announced that its $700 million funding round is being led by Amazon. The tech giant said that it's inspired by the electric pickup and SUV the company revealed in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, but there seems to be more in it for the company.

The Plymouth, Mich., startup is raising funds to finish development and launch production of the all-electric R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV. Deliveries of these electric vehicles to customers in the U.S. are expected to begin in late 2020.

“We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation,” Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer Jeff Wilke said in a statement. “RJ has built an impressive organization, with a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative company.”

Amazon, like many global corporation, expects that electrified transportation will eventually become sizable with government emissions mandates increasing. But there’s another important angle for the company. Led by founder Jeff Bezos, Amazon has been quietly and steadily increasing its presence in the automotive sector — and clearly sees its role expanding as a leader in logistic and delivery.

The investor group Amazon is leading for Rivian also includes the investment arm of Abdul Latif Jameel IPR Co. Ltd., a Saudi Arabian conglomerate whose holdings include a major Toyota car and truck distributorship. Sumitomo Corp. also has invested in Rivian. General Motors had been eyeing the startup as an investment, but was not named as part of the Amazon funding deal.

In recent years, Amazon has been increasing its presence as a major technology partner to vehicle manufacturers. Amazon’s Alexa system that connects smart phone apps to car dashboards is becoming common in new vehicle offerings. The Alexa Auto SDK will be offered soon and includes all the core Alexa functions like streaming media, smart home controls, weather reports, and will be receiving new features just right for auto users like navigation and search, Amazon says. It ties well into its popular services such as Amazon Music that can be played by drivers going to work. Related: The 30 Most Exciting Wildcat Plays Of 2019

Bezos sees Amazon playing a leading role in autonomous vehicles and supply chain management. That’s likely one of the appealing angles of its investment in Rivian. The startup also has operations in San Jose and Irvine, Calif., where engineers are working on autonomous vehicle technology.

Apple's major presence in cloud computing could play a big part in autonomous vehicles through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. AWS has a long list of corporate customers including global automakers, Tier 1 automotive suppliers and mobility company startups. Its “secure, agile and scalable platform can help accelerate your pace of innovation, improve your security posture and lower your IT cost structure,” Amazon’s website pitches to potential clients.

The tech giant has been exploring its place in the global logistics sector, which Transparency Market Research expects to reach $15.5 trillion by 2023. Amazon isn’t planning on taking over that market space, but is looking for revenue streams and operating cost cutting opportunities in its role as the most prominent and pervasive shopping website in the world — with next day delivery of packages right to your doorstep. Related: Forget EVs, Detroit's Big 3 Battle For Heavy-Duty Truck Segment

XPO Logistics appears to be losing sizable income and stock value from its major client, Amazon, with the client pulling away and getting into its own delivery services. Delivery giants FedEx and UPS have been downplaying the threat from Amazon, but are watching closely to see if more threats will emerge — including Amazon’s leading role in delivery postage in the U.S. that has provoked anger from President Donald Trump.

One way that Amazon will be cutting costs and increasing income on the delivery front is through its flying drones. That will be taking place through Amazon Prime Air, a service that will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using its small drones. The tech giant hasn’t specified when it will become a service available to the public.

Amazon and UPS are competing to offer the best delivery drones, with both companies testing package delivery that could drastically cut operating costs in the near future.

In late 2017, Amazon was awarded a patent that could benefits buyers of electric trucks and vans from Rivian. The patent will allow the company to create a drone that can charge electric vehicles, including EVs that are still in driving mode and need more power to get to a charging station.

The patent granted to the tech giant also includes a rooftop docking station that the drone can land on to stay connected with the EV and provide power while it continues the trip. It would mean working directly with automakers to be adaptable to the technology, or making aftermarket modifications. Amazon clearly sees EVs tying into its vision as a global leader in logistics and delivery at an affordable price.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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