Electric adventure truck and SUV startup Rivian is generating the type of buzz and consumer support that surrounds Tesla.
The Plymouth, Mich., company is starting to develop a long roster of depositors who have plunked down $1,000 to buy a vehicle they’ve never seen at a price they don’t know. Even more, the buyers aren’t sure of the delivery date.
Tesla did it when it launched the Model 3 electric sedan in April 2015. To the company’s quiet surprise, 100,000 people had sent $1,000 each by the time the unveiling started officially. In a few weeks, that number had more than tripled.
Rivian won’t say how many deposits it’s taken for its R1T pickup truck and R1S seven-seat sport-utility vehicle. But it was sufficiently high that 1,000 depositors attended a New York City event last week to meet Rivian’s executives and see the vehicles for the first time. Low-end versions may one day sell for about $70,000, but Rivian has yet to release price information.
After working in stealth mode for years, the company unveiled the truck and SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. The Rivians generated huge buzz that shows little sign of abating.
LIKE TESLA, BUT BETTER?
Three themes emerged in Trucks.com interviews with Rivian depositors:
- They’ve waited 10 years for large electric SUVs and pickup trucks.
- They want EVs that go off-road, do what trucks do, and get dirty – and Teslas aren’t that.
- Rivian’s long, quiet period without a shred of marketing hype or lofty promises stands it in good stead.
Many depositors already own electric cars, including Teslas. They respect the Palo Alto, Calif., automaker but say that Elon Musk, its mercurial chief executive, imbues Tesla with a touch of craziness.
Rivian founder R.J. Scaringe is quite different. He doesn’t run multiple companies at once, send cars into space on rockets, or propose to dig tunnels under major cities. Scaringe has wanted to build groundbreaking electric vehicles since he was an MIT student. Now he is doing just that.
TEXAS DRIVER MISSES HIS TRUCK
Scaringe has found an audience in customers like Brent Miller, an IT consultant from Dallas. Unlike a lot of Texans, he doesn’t currently have a pickup truck, having given his to his mother, who needed a vehicle.
“I’ve been regretting it ever since,” he said. When he saw Rivian, he immediately fell for the idea of a large vehicle “with the utility of a pickup truck, but running on electric power.”
Miller and his wife felt the Rivian models were what they’d expected, he said. Both were disappointed the interiors of the carefully hand-built display vehicles were off-limits for sitting.
But the event gave Miller confidence. “They seem to be doing things right,” he said. “The hype machine didn’t start before they had a real product.”
LOW TRAVEL COSTS
Rich Walker, a firefighter and medic from Miami, took delivery of a Tesla Model 3 Mid-Range sedan last year. Since then, he’s learned the cost of owning an electric car is lower than that of a gasoline car if you drive a lot of miles and recharge at home at night, when rates are low.
Now every road trip the family takes is electric, with stops at Supercharger fast-charging sites planned by the Tesla’s mapping software. It even tells them how long to charge to get sufficient range without staying longer than needed.
But, Walker said, you can’t get a Tesla dirty the way you would a pickup truck. Rivian offered the idea of an electric truck that could be an “adventure vehicle” that let him go hiking, cycling and camping. “That would solve all my needs,” he said.
Still, those who have ordered Rivians understand that the company has some serious challenges before they take delivery of their gleaming, new, long-range electric truck.
As well as getting a production line designed, installed, tested, and running – something that remains a challenge for Tesla after 10 years – Rivian also needs to figure out its pricing.
Specifically, these trucks will have very large batteries, probably about 100 kilowatt-hours at the bottom end and 180 kwh at the top. That high end is three times the size of the largest battery in the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt EV, each of which costs $37,500. Batteries in luxury electric SUVs from Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz top out at about 100 kwh.
So how expensive will Rivians be? Expect them to launch with pricing closer to luxury adventure vehicles like top Range Rovers than to the more prosaic Chevy Suburban. Or, in the pickup sphere, well above the top Ford F-250 King Ranch model.
LIKE A RANGE ROVER
Scaringe declined to discuss pricing in a short talk with Trucks.com amid dozens of selfies with depositors. But he acknowledged that Rivian was similar to Range Rover regarding pricing – upscale – and target customers: those looking for off-road adventure capability. “We’ve turned away several big fleet inquiries,” he said, “because that’s really not our brand.”