The hottest brand at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show is Rivian. Wait, what? Who is Rivian? What is Rivian? When can I buy one? How much?
The skinny: Rivian is a startup with way more than an Indiegogo dream. It has actual money, and it bought a former Mitsubishi manufacturing plant in Illinois in 2017 for $16 million. The factory already has the tooling Rivian needs to build cars. It also has offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley. It’s real and since 2009 it’s been building toward this week, when it an announced an all-electric pickup truck with a range of 400 miles and a seven-passenger SUV.
Rivian’s strategy is smart. The number one selling vehicle in America is the Ford F-150. Rivian’s R1T truck can gun from 0-60mph in three seconds flat. (Nope, no stock F-150 can do that.) That may seem like overkill, but you want to blow minds to appeal to skeptics. Tesla sold first to guys who could afford to buy Ferraris. This is the same idea except you’re talking to truck owners. In doing this, CEO RJ Scaringe has made it clear that selling electric trucks and big SUVs is the fastest way to reduce the most carbon. Those buyers aren’t going to get into a Prius. But one of these bad boys?
Oh, yes, that same get up and go is promised in the seven-passenger SUV, the R1S, that was revealed today.
But the revolution is really not about making a big vehicle like this go fast. That’s the sizzle. The steak is in the skateboard platform, a battery pack in the floor with motors at every wheel, allowing a modular “top” that takes different forms so you can build an SUV or pickup on the same line.
What’s cool, too, is how ditching an engine and a typical driveline enables so much more creativity. There’s a front trunk in both; in the pickup there’s a unique storage tunnel in the otherwise dead space behind the cab but ahead of the bed. They also designed a very clever rack rail system that can slot into the rooftop, in the bed, or in the hatch of the R1S, which gives you a tie-down system wherever you need it. And there’s the in-bed spare tire storage that almost surely is a bad idea if you do actually get a flat, but sure, it looks neat. There’s also a built-in compressor, useful if you air-down and need to re-inflate when you hit civilization.
And there’s the fact that a truck or crossover with fully independent air suspension and no exposed motor or transmission offers up to 14.3 inches of off-road ground clearance but a “kneeling” entry height of eight inches. Add in all that weight in the floor, and adaptive dampers and theoretically you get excellent anti-roll characteristics that allow a reasonably forgiving road ride that’s still agile off road. We’ve driven Jaguar’s new I-Pace EV and that’s exactly what it feels like.
Rivian didn’t reveal all the details about how the vehicle works off-road, but promised the equivalent of “geared” capability, and even the ability to run, say, one of the motors in reverse in order to tighten the steering radius of a delicate crawl. Its signing of outdoor adventure photographer Ben Moon as an ambassador suggests at least a nod in the outback direction.
Under-vehicle skid plating is designed to protect both rigs when you’re out in the wild, and Rivian says they’ve very much targeted these for actual off-roading, not posing, hence the promise of 180 kW battery/400 miles of range. At home they say you’ll get to 80 percent juice in an hour on DC fast charging, and an onboard 11kW onboard charger will allow quicker re-juicing in the field at Level 2 charging stations. As for ownership, that’ll cost you $61,500 for the truck, with deliveries starting late 2020, with the SUV following in 2021.
Is Rivian crazy to be launching a whole new vehicle brand the day after GM announced it’s laying off 15,000 workers because its car sales are slowing? In the U.S. car sales are down by about 1 million units vs. this time last year.
Cars aren’t selling. Trucks and SUVs are. And across the board, the traditional car sales model is changing radically, too. Tesla only makes electric cars, just like Rivian, and that’s what’s forcing GM and every other carmaker to rethink what they sell and even what a car “sale” looks like. Sales are certainly being hurt by Trump’s steel tariffs, but the bigger impact is that younger people are putting off car purchasing altogether. Why buy when you can take a Lyft? Who needs the added debt?
At the car show this week, Volvo is showing…nothing. At the center of its stand is a clever piece of art that reads “This is Not a Car.” Volvo’s newest “model” isn’t a car, but a wildly successful subscription service it launched recently called Care by Volvo, where you pay a flat fee to use a Volvo for a year and then can swap to another model if you like. Unlike a lease, all costs are included. The insurance, all maintenance, etc. come for the monthly fee of $699 or $799, depending on the model. Ownership was a fad, Volvo seems to be saying. Lexus, Audi, Ford, and GM, are all moving this direction.
And, yes, so is Rivian.