Electric truck and SUV startup Rivian has entered the final stages of testing its R1T pickup as it nears launching full-scale production in 2020.
The Plymouth, Mich. auto company plans to build the truck and its R1S SUV.
Analysts warn that the company has entered a critical stage as it nears production.
“They need to continue raising enough capital to continue product development of its launch products, develop a retail network and successfully launch the product to the public – all without running out of money,” said Ed Kim, an analyst with the AutoPacific consulting firm.
The company also must not get tripped up by the problems that have plagued automotive startups such as Fisker and others.
The production vehicle must have the same quality, fit, and finish of first-tier automakers such as Ford and General Motors.
“That’s much harder than it sounds as most automakers have been developing and assembling cars for many decades,” Kim said.
That’s even more important because of the premium $69,000-plus price range of the vehicles, he said.
Another obstacle will be rising above the clutter of numerous startups and established automakers that will be competing in the same price segments. Tesla, Ford, Workhorse Group and others all plan or already make electric trucks and SUVs.
Rivian, however, has made some critical moves that will help the fledgling automaker compete.
It owns a 2.6-million-square-foot former Mitsubishi assembly plant in Normal., Ill., bought in a 2017 liquidation sale for $16 million. Rivian said it is about halfway done converting that plant to produce its vehicles. The company has a stated goal of creating 1,000 new jobs at the plant by 2024.
And Rivian appears to have adequate capital.
In April, Ford Motor Co. invested $500 million in Rivian and will use the startup’s “skateboard” platform to develop a new electric vehicle. Earlier this year Rivian raised $700 million in a financing round led by Amazon.
It also is targeting a hot market.
“Pickups and large SUVs are all the rage right now, and Rivian is among the few EV makers not focusing on road-going crossovers and sedans,” Kim said. “They are competing with highly differentiated products, and that’s an excellent strategy for rising above the clutter.”
The R1T pickup is more than a daily driver. Rivian promotes the truck as a capable adventure-ready off-roader. Marketing photography depicts the R1T on a trail in the woods with a bike rack on top of its bed.
Rivian designed the truck for off-roading. Each wheel is powered by an independent electric motor. The truck’s axles and the standard air suspension will allow for 10.6-inches of articulation at each corner.
The truck has five ride heights that accommodate situations where the vehicle must climb over rocks or lower itself to clear branches.
It is also meant to be quick, getting from zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds according to company estimates. Rivian promises at least an 11,000-pound towing capacity.
Rivian will have a 400-mile range in its top-tier truck and SUV models.
The electric vehicle manufacturer will offer the R1T in with the buyer’s choices of a 105 kW, 135kW or 180kW battery pack which equates to about 230 miles, over 300 miles and over 400 miles of range. Rivian predicts that using a DC fast charger, owners can get 200 miles of range in 30 minutes.
The company has designed the vehicles around Level 3 self-driving technology. That is the industry label for cars that can drive themselves with occasional human intervention.
Right- and left-hand drive variants of the models are already in development. Rivian will sell the R1T and R1S in Australia, but no timeline has been laid out for those deliveries.
Pricing for the R1T starts at $69,000. The R1S is slated to begin at $72,500. Rivian has set its first delivery date for late 2020. The company has previously said it expects six of its models to be on sale by 2025.
The high price – Most gasoline full-size pickups start around $30,000 – will limit sales.
AutoPacific’s 2019 New Vehicle Satisfaction Study data show that about 11 percent of pickup owners are willing to consider purchasing an electric truck. Given the massive size of the pickup market – nearly 3 million units sold last year – even 11 percent consideration amounts to considerable market potential, Kim said.
While Rivian “is playing in a very narrow space, but there’s some interest in a capable electric pickup,” said Rebecca Lindland, an independent industry analyst. “Also, early adopters buying EVs are not particularly price sensitive. They’re willing to pay a lot to be first, especially for a unique, cool concept like an electric pick up.”