Rivian unveiled its first “electric adventure vehicle,” the R1T truck. Due to arrive in “late 2020,” it will be the first Rivian vehicle on the company’s R1 platform (an SUV will be soon to follow). This reveal offered Rivian an opportunity to define its brand or, perhaps as importantly, define how Rivian was different from Tesla. Rivian describes itself as the upmarket electric performance brand that can get dirty (beach and trail sense, not ‘dirrty‘ like Christina Aguilera) and clean up afterward. Rivian does not want Tesla’s market. The electric upstart wants to challenge Land Rover.
How does one get attention for a new EV? Release eye-popping performance numbers. The R1T rundown will widen some pupils. The 135 kWh version will deliver 754hp and 826lb-ft of torque. That version will accelerate from 0-60mph in three seconds and 0-100mph in less than seven seconds. The 180 kWh version sacrifices a bit of performance but will have a range of more than 400 miles to the 135 kWh version’s 300-plus.
Besides being a flat track demon, Rivian plans for the R1T to be an impressive off-roader. The air suspension can provide up to 14.2 inches of ground clearance in off-road mode. The R1T can climb a 45-degree slope and wade through a meter of water. Truck stuff? Truck yeah. The R1T can support a 1,764lb payload and tow an 11,000lb trailer, with an unmentioned cost to battery life.
The R1T is where performance meets practicality. Rivian’s skateboard platform tucks almost all the R1T’s hardware below the wheel line. That leaves more than ample storage space. There’s a grocery haul sized frunk and a “gear tunnel” between the cabin and bed that can hold snowboards and up to 185cm skis. There are storage compartments underneath the seats and beneath the truck bed. Rivian optimized The flooring, mats, and vegan leather seats for maximal cleanability and durability.
Rivian won’t disappoint on the 2020s tech front either. The R1T will have a “high-speed ethernet backbone” enabling over-the-air software updates and performance upgrades. It will also enable “Level 3” self-driving on the highway for those who need a respite on their way home from all that adventuring.
Crucially, the R1T prototype does all this while looking like a pickup. It’s not something out of an Elon Musk Blade Runner fantasy. While aerodynamic, it is clean and well proportioned. It would not look out of place among Tacomas and ZR2s.
The critical aesthetic difference is the front grille. That’s a distinctive feature on trucks and off-roaders. The R1T does not have one. It seeks an “identifiable face” with lights. Mission accomplished, though perhaps not the way Rivian intended. The oval headlights feel a bit too friendly. When someone inevitably points out they look like the Michelin Man’s eyes, you won’t be able to unsee that.
So, per Rivian, we have an electric Land Rover-like sport truck. It drives like a Corvette on-road and romps like a Wrangler off-road. It’s more practical than a Subaru. Its battery capacity virtually eliminates range anxiety. That’s paradigm shifted, then. Give Rivian all your money? Maybe.
Scaling up will be a tough challenge for Rivian. The company has about 560 employees. For perspective, that’s nearly 200 fewer than McLaren. Not McLaren Automotive. It’s almost 200 fewer staffers than McLaren’s F1 team that does not build the engine. Tesla is about 90 times larger. Even with funding and a factory, Rivian must build retail and maintenance infrastructure as well as supply chains from scratch.
Late 2020 will also be an interesting time to enter the marketplace. That’s two more years for Americans to accept EVs and for third parties to build up fast-charging infrastructure. But, that’s also two more years for established luxury manufacturers to build similar products. While Tesla carved out its own niche, Rivian will be competing against established manufacturers in what should be a saturated segment.