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Amazon's investment in electric vehicle maker Rivian debuted in the Denver area this week. The company is using the custom vans for deliveries near its existing warehouses in Denver, Aurora and Thornton. The vans have a 150-mile range "based on current testing," said a spokeswoman. Rivian's all-electric SUV and truck are expected to have a 300-mile range. (Provided by Amazon)

The first Amazon deliveries using new Rivian electric vans reached Denver this week, one of 16 U.S. locations the online retailer plans to deploy electric vehicles on its routes.

Amazon is one of Rivian’s investors and began testing the all-electric vans in Los Angeles earlier this year. It’s part of the company’s “Climate Pledge,” to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The company purchased 100,000 EVs for deliveries. The Denver-area routes are part of an initial test in different climates that is also occurring in a few other U.S. cities before the Rivian EV program expands.

“From what we’ve seen, this is one of the fastest modern commercial electrification programs, and we’re incredibly proud of that,” Ross Rachey, director of Amazon’s Global Fleet and Products, said in a statement. “As we continue to grow and invest in Colorado, we want to do so responsibly, so we’re excited for customers to see these vehicles cruising through their neighborhood.”

Amazon’s investment in electric vehicle maker Rivian debuted in the Denver area this week. The vehicles have a limited 150-mile range so they will deliver near existing Colorado warehouses in Denver, Aurora and Thornton. Pictured is a custom Rivian that Amazon is using in other parts of the country. In Colorado, “We’ll have something similar,” Amazon spokeswoman NIkki Wheeler said. (Provided by Amazon)

Rivian has attracted a lot of attention in Colorado because of its focus on all-electric SUVs and trucks, which are the most popular types of vehicles sold in the state, according to the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

Two years ago, the automaker backed a bill in the state legislature to sell its EVs directly to consumers in Colorado. Auto dealers balked and the proposal didn’t pass. But a law did pass last year after it limited direct consumer sales to automakers with no existing dealership franchise. 

Last month, the company was approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to install public charging stations in every state park at no cost to Colorado. The first stations are expected to be installed in July.

Also last month, the Regional Air Quality Council awarded Amazon a $71,000 Charge Ahead Colorado grant for seven charging stations. Six are Level 2 stations and one is level 3, which is the fast-charging station. The council, which works on air-quality issues in the Denver metro area, said that the stations are likely for Amazon’s Thornton location.

“Amazon did not apply for funding for the vehicles, and as far as we know that was negotiated separately between Amazon and Rivian,” said Sara Goodwin, a spokeswoman for RAQC. Grants are still available to help companies pay for charging stations and electric vehicle fleets, Goodwin said, and the next round of applications starts May 17.

Rivian, which as of January raised $8 billion in venture funding, expects to start delivering preordered vehicles to customers this summer. 

“Our launch edition vehicles are sold out. If someone pre-orders a Rivian today, they will not receive that vehicle until 2022,” Rivian spokeswoman Amy Mast said in an email.

The company declined to share pre-order numbers but Mast added that “Colorado is a really strong market for Rivian.”

The all-electric Rivian R1T pickup from startup Rivian promises up to 400 miles range and 0-60 acceleration in 3 seconds. Prices start at $69,000 with production starting in 2020. The company plans to make it available in Colorado. (Provided by Rivian)

Rivian’s upcoming R1T electric truck and R1S electric SUV are different from the custom Amazon vans. The consumer models are expected to have a range of 300 miles, compared with 150 for the Amazon vans.

The limited range means Colorado delivery routes will be in the Aurora, Boulder, Denver and Thornton neighborhoods near existing Amazon warehouses, said Nikki Wheeler, an Amazon spokeswoman. 

“The range we’re sharing is what we have seen based on current testing,” she said.

Amazon won’t say how many Rivian vans it will use per state, but by next year, the plan is to have 10,000 Rivians making deliveries. Amazon, which uses other EVs as well, said it has already delivered 20 million packages using electric vehicles in North America and Europe. 

This story was updated to include details on Regional Air Quality Council incentives awarded to Amazon to build charging stations in Colorado. Amazon also clarified that the Rivian vans are going through initial test delivery routes this week before the program expands. Added comments from Rivian on April 29, 2021.

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...