A New Challenger Appears: The Rivian R1T.
There’s no shortage of companies bringing hot new electric cars to market in the automotive world. Easily obtained by wealthy early-adopters, they are often out of reach for your average enthusiast, not to mention consumers on the mass market. Tesla has seen enormous appeal but has struggled – until recently – to turn this into actual sales. By and large, this is the struggle electric vehicles face: can the cool factor translate into actual dollars coming in? Without establishing long term viability in the mass market, the EV future some of us hope for is still just a bunch of tech bros flexing their latest toys.
But there’s a relatively new player in the field with almost US $5 Billion in funding, including a round led by retail giant Amazon. Could this be the next big thing or a flop like so many others over the years? What the Rivian R1T offers is something nobody else has so far, and that will make the difference.
What is the Rivian R1T?
The stuff the Rivian R1T is promising is fascinating. Truck lovers should pay attention here. Not only is this an EV truck, as it does real truck things, too, like towing 11,000 lbs. But Rivian will have to boost the reported 1800 lbs of payload. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for cargo, passengers, and trailer tongue weight. We’re still waiting on official final numbers. With what we have, I don’t see how it will be able to have anything more than 500 pounds on the hitch, putting most large half-ton towable RVs out of reach. And people are going to miss that.
The Rivian R1T has an engine at each wheel, meaning you get actual, instant torque vectoring for all-wheel driving as you’ve never seen. That includes a wildly-entertaining “tank mode”, which lets the Rivian R1T turn in place. Rivian is selling their truck, and equally exciting full-body SUV, as “outdoor adventure vehicles”.
Breaking the range anxiety mold
Most impressive is the range the Rivian R1T claims to get. At over 680 kilometers (400 miles), they have a fantastic range that just about makes these vehicles reasonable on long trips. Towing will reduce that range, though I don’t know by how much. How the Rivian R1T does tow is something FutureMotoring would love to test, and will eventually feature here (hopefully).
But what Rivian is doing might be the thing the electric car needs. What the Rivian R1T does might be the secret to taking them from a small start-up to a huge company that makes a real difference in greenhouse gas emissions. But they have to do a few things right.
Having a real environmental impact
See, this is where Tesla has gone wrong. Instead of focusing energy on the Model X or Model 3 after the Model S launch, a Tesla half-ton should have been next to the market. There’s a good reason for this: Pickup trucks are insanely popular. Ford alone sells nearly 2 million units of its F series every year. Nothing has the market that tolerates higher prices like pickup buyers. These trucks have the highest profit margins among mass-produced vehicles. Pickup trucks also pollute a lot. With so many of them on the roads, often in some fleets or commercial applications, this is the most significant way to cut down emissions.
Tesla should have jumped on this from day one, but instead focused on sedans – a market segment in massive decline and vehicles which sell with tiny profit margins, or at a loss. It’s where Rivian will step in and take over.
A truck for truck people
The Rivian R1T has hit the road with a lot of the right ingredients. A boosted the range, which truck owners will want. Rivian kept a lot of the practical attitude that truck buyers need, or at least think they need. Their design is unique but traditional, and it starts conversations, which works to their advantage. Rivian has ensured lots of power and torque are on hand for pickup truck stuff. There is an industry-matching tow capacity on their side. They even have a price-point that’s right on par with luxury pickups, so your entry cost is no higher than that of internal combustion competitors.
But there are a few things they need to change, or they’ll never be more than a specialty vehicle, sitting on the fringe of the market, and it’s something new electric vehicle start-ups seem incapable of doing.
The interior of the Rivian R1T looks stunning. It’s high tech, minimalist, and exceptionally well designed. But it’s all touch screen, and touchscreens are useless when you have gloves on. Whether work gloves, winter gloves, or any kind of glove. Rivian is also entering a market full of buyers who are, to put it kindly, traditionalists. They may not take to drastic new dashboard styles, and they definitely won’t enjoy tablet-style vehicle controls. What Rivian needs to remember is simple, basic.
Get to the fleet
Rivian needs to have a commercial trim. More people than ever are buying luxury, high-end pickup trucks. But the bread and butter of any truck brand are their commercial fleet sales. Rivian is already on to something with their Amazon delivery truck, but it’s not widely available. Rivian could take municipal and government fleets by storm by releasing a stripped-down, bone simple, ready to rumble, commercial truck.
Or take the Amazon delivery vans, a typical commercial van platform. They’re not as pretty in marketing, but these vans are an easy way to move product, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and get products on the streets in front of potential customers. It’s like being paid to have advertising!
Market share victory is Rivian’s to lose.
If Rivian can pull off a simplified design of their interior, or give buyers a choice between traditional or technological, it will be huge. They will sell units. Even if they only get 1% of the market, they’re selling over 50,000 R1Ts. Rivian could be stopping hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon from being emitted into the air. Most of all, Rivian would be selling vehicles with a stable and consistent demand base, a high profit margin, and significant consumer buy-in.
At this point, it’s Rivian’s race to lose.