RJ Scaringe, CEO and founder of startup automaker Rivian, shows a chart arraying brands from "commodity" to "aspirational" on the X axis and from "presentational" to "invitational" on the Y axis. He puts brands like Subaru and Patagonia above the center line: they're very functional, or as he describes it, "invitational." Tesla is the lower-right quadrant, aspirational and fancy. But Scaringe wants his company's so-called "Electric Adventure Trucks" to play in the top-right quadrant of the chart: desirable, of course, but also the type of thing you'd use hard and put away wet.
"We want to focus on the aspirational side. We want to focus on something people desire," he told reporters at a preview event in early November at Rivian's headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan. Yet at the same time, he says Rivian will build, "Products that are designed to be used, to get dirty."
"We see the space for something that enables adventures, something that enables activities," Scaringe continues.
Rivian plans to launch two all-electric vehicles, the R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV (stay tuned for more on the R1S later this week). They're designed and engineered primarily at the aforementioned Plymouth facility, an open and airy building outfitted like a stock image of a Silicon Valley startup. The building once produced Burroughs cash registers, so Scaringe jokes that, "We've just got to figure out how to keep making cash machines." Rivian also has employees in Southern California and in the UK.
A design from the future
At 215.5 inches in length and 79.3 wide, the R1T is a little bigger than a Honda Ridgeline (210 by 78.6 inches) or a Chevrolet Colorado Extended Cab (212.7 by 74.3 inches). Its design is as futuristic as anything from a sci-fi film, with a full-width bar on the nose that serves as the daytime running light, while oval "stadium lights" house the actual LED headlights. With no need for a traditional grille, the truck's face is unusually flat and plain. At the lower edge, there's a functional skid plate and two fold-down recovery hooks.
The distinct design is deliberate to help promote Rivian. "We don't have history, we are a new brand," says vice president of vehicle design Jeff Hammoud, so it's important that, "You'll be able to describe this [truck] to your friends quite easily."
The cab itself is slightly more traditional in terms of truck-like design, although there's no cut-off between the cab and the bed. The door handles tucked in flush to the bodywork, as seen on everything from Jaguar Land Rover products to, of course, Teslas. That bed features a powered hard tonneau cover that, at the touch of a button, retracts into the bodywork. Another full-width light bar covers the flat tailgate, with massive RIVIAN block-lettering in true pickup-truck style.
The carefully sculpted exterior will make the R1T, "by a significant margin the most aerodynamic truck," Scaringe promises, though no drag-coefficient numbers are offered.
Innovative storage options
Because there is no engine up front, the R1T's hood instead opens to reveal a "frunk," able to store 11.6 cubic feet of stuff. In a demo, Rivian staffers showed they could easily stow a cooler, backpack and another duffel bag in there. Out back, the cargo bed has a fully flat design and measures 54.5 inches wide and 55.1 inches wide — wider than but not quite as long as the bed of a Ridgeline, to give one point of reference.
At the base of the truck's C-pillar is another clever storage option called the Gear Tunnel. It's designed for fitting snowboards, golf bags or strollers inside the truck's body. The doors to the tunnel fold down to serve as steps (they can support 300 pounds) for reaching up to the roof racks, or for sitting on when, say, strapping on hiking boots or pulling off a wetsuit.
A lockable storage compartment under the truck's bed can either hold a full-size spare tire or another 7.0 cubic feet of stuff. And in all models except the one with the biggest battery pack (more on that below), you'll find extra storage under the rear seat.
Rivian has designed its own rack-mounting system with expandable cross-bars that can be stowed inside the frunk. They're designed to attach and detach easily using custom hooks in the cargo bed, the bed sides and on the roof, and were specifically engineered to produce as little aero drag as possible. Rivian is working on its own brand of rack attachments for everything from bicycles and tents to snowboards (i.e. your off-the-shelf Yakima or Thule bike rack won't work). The cargo bed also has special locking cables that pull out from the bed walls to secure valuables while, say, you stop off for a post-adventure burger.
Three battery options
There will be three battery options, with the headlining one an enormous 180-kilowatt-hour pack that will give the R1T a driving range of "400+" miles, as well as a 0 to 60 miles per hour time of 3.2 seconds. A lighter 135-kWh battery pack will deliver "300+" miles of range and a 3.0-second sprint to 60, while the most affordable 105-kWh option is rated for a 230-mile driving range and a 4.9-second run to 60; it will launch approximately six months after the first two versions do. All three versions will be limited to 125 mph.
With batteries that big, charging speed becomes hugely important. The R1T will support DC fast charging up to 160 kilowatts, fast enough to add 200 miles of range in just 30 minutes — assuming you can find a DC fast charger that supports such high power. On a Level 2 charger, the most common kind at public charge points, Rivian says the truck should be able to charge in eight hours — though it's unclear which battery pack that applies to.
Getting power to the road are four electric motors, one at each wheel. Each one is identical, with the same power output and same single-speed gearbox ratio. They're rated for 147 kilowatts or 197 horsepower each, which equates to 788 total combined horsepower and matches Scaringe's claim that the truck will have, "nearly 800 horsepower."
However, things are a little more complex when you read the spec chart. Rivian rates the "power to gearbox" differently for each model: the 105-kWh truck is said to offer 402 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, the 135-kWh option will be rated 754 horsepower and 826 pound-feet, while the 180-kWh model is rated 700 horsepower and 826 pound-feet. Apparently buyers will be able to "unlock" more power after purchase thanks to over-the-air updates — similar to how Tesla has offered upgrades like "Ludicrous mode" via software.
Other key truck specs include a payload rating of 1,764 pounds and a tow rating of just over 11,000 pounds. The truck's curb weight is listed at 5,886 pounds. Because all of the power electronics and components are fully sealed, the R1T can also safely wade through 3.3 feet of water, or about a foot more than the new Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Yes, it'll go off-road
Rivian executive director of engineering Mark Vinnels promises the R1T will have impressive off-roading abilities. He notes that electric motors' output can be controlled much more precisely than using the brakes on a traditional vehicle for traction control. In other words, expect clever strategies for using all four motors to deliver lots of grip.
An adaptive air suspension is standard, and in its highest "Off-Road II" ride height it delivers 14.2 inches of ground clearance, as well as a 34-degree approach angle, 30-degree departure angle and the ability to scale a 45-degree gradient. For reference, a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has comparable numbers of 10.8 inches, 44 degrees and 37 degrees.
With the battery pack mounted low down in the chassis, keeping it safe from rock impacts is critical. Vinnels says engineers are still evaluating protection designs ranging from composites to kevlar to metals. His team has "some pretty severe targets that we've set" for battery penetration, with one test involving dropping the battery from its highest ride height onto a very small, very sharp object. He seems confident the average off-roader will not puncture the battery pack.
Also enabling off-road articulation is a hydraulic anti-roll system. Rather than traditional anti-roll bars, the R1T uses hydraulically linked cylinders to provide lots of roll control and comfort for on-road driving while allowing for wheel travel off-road. Vinnels didn't provide many more details on the system at the preview event.
The inside of the Rivian R1T has a decidedly minimalist look to it, recalling the style of newer Volvos, with lots of exposed wood, "hidden" HVAC vents and, yes, even green leather seats in the model shown at the preview. There are, as is modern-car fashion, two giant screens on the dash. One serves as the all-encompassing instrument cluster, while the other is a giant touchscreen with swipeable "tiles" of information. Rivian promises the nav system will have lots of off-road terrain maps, too, for people who do use the R1T for off-the-grid journeys.
Clever details in the cabin include removable and interchangeable storage bag designs in the door pockets, removable and easily cleanable floor mats and seating materials that help resist dust and water stains. With no transmission tunnel, the floor is completely flat, allowing for plenty of space between driver and passenger.
Rivian also promises the R1T will have a full suite of active safety tech — without going into specifics, Vinnels promises all the features we'd expect on rival luxury vehicles. Those sensors are also said to allow for Level 3 highway self-driving, where the driver could take his or her attention fully away from the task of driving. We'll have to wait to learn what types of limitations are imposed on that when the truck makes production. Cadillac Super Cruise, for instance, uses clever eye-tracking technology, while Audi has thus far declined to bring its Level 3 tech to the US.
The next hurdle: Building it
Of course, designing a great car is one thing, but producing it in high volumes and high quality is tougher — as Tesla has proven with its struggles ramping up Model 3 production.
"It's the biggest challenge we have," admits Vinnels, noting that assembly was a concern from day one. "The 'design for engineering' ethos has runs through the entire team… every surface [on the vehicle] we know we can manufacture."
Rivian's team has already been working to source all of the truck's components. And the company bought a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, and will rehab it to build the R1T and R1S. Still, there's clearly a lot more work to be done between now and November 2020, when Rivian tentatively hopes to start selling the R1T.
As Scaringe's presentation about aspirational brands alluded, the R1T will also be pretty expensive. It will start at $69,000, or $61,500 with the $7,500 federal tax rebate, though pricing would of course vary depending on which battery pack and options a buyer selected. (One intriguing option: a "Marathon" model which would have a low feature set but the largest battery pack, designed for people who plan to take lots of long trips off-road.) Stay tuned over the next two years as we see how those plans evolve as the all-electric truck heads to production.