Is Rivian “The One?”

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I first heard of Rivian when I saw their pickup (R1T) and SUV (R1S) at the 2018 LA Auto Show. The stat sheet left me impressed, but skeptical. Electric vehicle companies are known to make pretty outlandish claims (I’m looking at you, Faraday and Lucid). I am wary of a mid-size pickup claiming a 400-mile range, zero to 60 in three seconds, and a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds.  

However, as I walk around the R1T and R1S, I am struck by one thing, how “normal” they look. Yes, the headlights are a little wonky, but overall it looked like, wait for it, a truck! It looks good; it’s not a computer model designed egg with zero aesthetic appeal. Both the truck and SUV have handsome design and the right proportions for a market that loves trucks and SUVs.

That’s an EV?

Here is the Rivian R1T at the 2018 LA Auto Show.
The Rivian R1T

As I stood there admiring the truck, I thought Rivian could finally make electric vehicles mainstream in the US. Tesla has done a fantastic job making EVs that work in real life, and look “relatively” good. I find the Model S attractive, but the Model 3 and X are just plain ugly. Tesla also knocked some sense into the major manufacturers, spurring them to create their own EVs. Mass-market EVs in showrooms around the country is progress that will benefit consumers everywhere. The problem for Tesla is the American car buyer is less interested in sedans by the day. The upcoming Model Y will crash the insanely popular CUV market. But, even CUVs can’t overcome America’s truck obsession.

Gamechanger

I realized if Rivian actually produces the truck on display, it would be a watershed moment for EVs. Americans love trucks, and this truck looks the part. It has an impressive estimated range and some amazing cargo capability due to the skateboard platform.

Photo courtesy of Rivian. Here is the empty "frunk" of the R1T.
The R1T “frunk” – photo by Rivian

Any Porsche Boxster or Cayman owner knows the benefit of having a front trunk (frunk) and a trunk. The R1T claims one of the first frunks in truck history. The space is extremely capable as demonstrated by the multiple bags and a cooler displayed at the auto show. It also possesses a pass-through storage compartment behind the rear seats, a feature that is impossible in a traditional truck. This compartment is fantastic for golfers, campers, or anyone looking for more safe and secure storage. Due to the lack of a conventional engine and drivetrain, a whole new era of storage has opened up, literally.

The pass-through storage compartment on the Rivian R1T
The ingenious pass-through storage compartment of the RT1

An “Overnight” Success

Rivian seemed to come out of nowhere at the LA Auto Show, but it has been around for ten years. Rivian chose to locate its headquarters in Livonia, MI (in close proximity to Detriot and the US auto industry). They acquired a functioning manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois where the vehicles will be built. They also have offices in Irvine, CA, San Jose, CA, and the United Kingdom. The company is on the right path to be more than a “start-up.” However, they aren’t a producer of road going automobiles yet. After the LA Auto Show, Rivian was on everyone’s mind, to include other major manufacturers. It appears Ford is the first to formalize a partnership. Hopefully, this means we see the R1T and R1S on the road by the end of 2020 as planned.

Rivian announced a new strategic partnership with the Ford Motor Company last week. Ford agreed to an equity investment of 500 million dollars, and will be a minority partner with Rivian. The company previously received a 700 million dollar investment from Amazon.

Ford plans to use the Rivian flexible skateboard design to create a new electric vehicle. Rivian gains an infusion of cash, and access to Ford’s experience and expertise in the market. When companies create strategic partnerships, you have to wonder who is getting the better end of the deal. In this case, it will probably be Ford, but I hope it is Rivian.

It’s encouraging to see Rivian capitalize on the progress of Tesla. Their approach seems to be methodical and they have built a foundation that should support them well in the future. The R1T is priced at the high-end of the range, but Americans have proven they will pay for a good truck.