Electric truck startup Rivian Automotive introduces itself to the world this week with the unveilings of an electric pickup truck and an electric SUV.
The company says the trucks, debuting at the Los Angeles Auto Show, will be insanely fast and, for those willing to pay for going the distance, have up to 400 miles of range. They also will offer world-class, off-road capability as well as on-road performance and comfort.
The base model R1T pickup, with 250 miles of range, will start at $69,000 before incentives, R.J. Scaringe, Rivian’s 35-year-old founder and chief executive, told Trucks.com.
Two upper trims will provide more range, features and performance. Pricing has yet to be announced.
Details of the SUV, the R1S, will be released Tuesday at the auto show. It is based largely on the pickup.
Banking on Change
Plymouth, Mich.-based Rivian intends to begin production in 2020 and is banking on significant disruption in the automotive ownership landscape to ensure its future.
Moody’s Investors Service estimates battery-electric cars and trucks will make up almost 20 percent of global light-vehicle sales by 2030.
Some analysts say Rivian also is likely to face competition from Ford, General Motors and FCA’s Ram brand, which all build pickups for rugged off-road use.
Rivian “is alone in this segment” of all-electric, adventure-oriented pickups, but is looking at a relatively small market, Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst at IHS Markit, told Trucks.com
The crew cab R1T’s tow rating is a hefty 11,000 pounds; cargo capacity is 1,760 pounds, according to Rivian. The truck boasts as much as 753 horsepower and 826 pound-feet of torque that is delivered to the wheels via four independent electric motors – one for each axle. Acceleration is as quick as 3 seconds from 0 to 60 mph for the top-of-the-line model.
The pickup rides on an air suspension system with 14 inches of maximum ground clearance and short front and rear overhangs to improve off-road capability.
Rivian intends to appeal directly to outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Referring to a premier outdoor clothing maker, Scaringe said he wants to become “the Patagonia” of the auto industry.
The R1T’s crew-cab design is modern and wouldn’t look out of place at a Ford or Ram truck event. But its lights will stand out. Oval LED headlights are mounted vertically in a front fascia bisected by a horizontal daytime running light bar. The rear sports a similar full-width lighting strip.
The interior is electronic-age modern, with digital instrument panel and few knobs or buttons. Upholstery is synthetic leather, and carpeting is removable and washable.
The pickup’s bed is just 4 feet 7 inches long, but is wide enough to carry full-size plywood sheets, although they’d hang over the extended tailgate by a foot or more. The tailgate and water-resistant cargo cover are electronically operated. There are three 120-volt power outlets and three USB outlets in the bed. An LED flashlight is secreted in a charge port in the driver’s door.
A cavernous storage well under the hood replaces the engine of a conventional pickup. A 6-foot “gear tunnel” traverses the width of the truck between cab and bed. Its lockable doors flip down to become outdoor seats – great for changing dirty footwear before driving home.
The base truck will have 402 horsepower and a 105-kWh battery pack good for 250 miles of range; the mid-level mode can deliver 753 horsepower and will have a 135 kWh battery with 300-plus miles of range, Richard Farquhar, Rivian’s vice president of propulsion, told Trucks.com.
The top trim will offer a 180-kWh battery – 80 percent larger than Tesla’s biggest – that’s good for more than 400 miles, he said.
The company plans to begin with direct sales to individual buyers – echoing the system used by Tesla – and to segue into marketing shared use as soon as 2025, Scaringe said.
Rivian bases its trucks on a self-contained “skateboard” platform that contains all of the suspension, battery and powertrain components and electronics. It also hopes to sell the platform to vehicle makers that want to go electric without investing much capital.
“Ford and others sell a lot of stripped chassis and cutaways,” said Sam Abuelsamid, automotive analyst at Navigant Research. “Having an electric equivalent to slap a box onto could be very appealing if Rivian can demonstrate the sort of durability” the market demands, he said.
“This may actually turn out to be the company’s ace in the hole,” Abuelsamid said.
But many major automakers are developing their own skateboard platforms for EVs. Tesla has used one since the Model S electric sedan in 2012. The competition could limit the market for Rivian.
“I think customers for that would be niche manufacturers,” David Whiston, auto industry analyst at Morningstar Research Services, told Trucks.com.
What About Shared Vehicles?
Rivian’s shared-vehicle strategy doesn’t impress Whiston much, either. Manufacturers need a large number of vehicles to make it work, “and they are a long way from that,” he said.
Vehicle sharing, much talked about as an answer to younger consumers’ apparent ambivalence toward automobile ownership, doesn’t impress Whiston as a corporate strategy, either. “I’m not convinced Americans are willing to share their vehicles all the time,” he said.
Scaringe, though, believes ownership attitudes are changing. “Adventure vehicles” largely used on weekends and for annual vacations are ideal targets for a shared-car market, he said.
“Once we bring in Level 4 autonomy so the vehicle can come to the user, the market will massively expand,” Scaringe said.
At launch, Rivian’s pickups and SUVs will be equipped with state-of-the-art driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. Higher levels of autonomy can be added as technology and regulations permit, Scaringe said.
A lifelong automotive enthusiast, Scaringe studied manufacturing and drivetrain technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Automotive Lab, earning a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
He started Rivian in 2009, initially to build a sports car. By 2011 he’d decided that was the wrong way to go, and he spent the next few years with his core team exploring other venues for vehicle electrification.
He traces today’s Rivian to 2015, after he secured $500 million in backing from the investment arm of Abdul Latif Jameel IPR Co. Ltd. Ironically, ALJ is a major distributor of Toyota cars and trucks – potential Rivian competitors.
Another Rivian backer is Sumitomo Corp.
Rivian employs almost 600 people and has an autonomous driving systems unit in San Jose, Calif., a battery development arm in Irvine, Calif., and a small engineering center in London.
It owns a 2.6-million-square-foot former Mitsubishi assembly plant in Normal., Ill., bought in a 2017 liquidation sale for $16 million. Mitsubishi closed the plant in 2015 as its U.S. sales plunged.
“This is a tough business to break into, but Rivian seems to be playing a smart, well-considered, patient game,” IHS analyst Brinley said.