Amazon plugs in with $700 million investment in electric pickup company Rivian

Amazon went public with its $700 million investment in U.S. all-electric truck startup company Rivian in a joint news release. An earlier report by  Reuters cited “people familiar with the matter” who said both General Motors and Amazon might invest between $1 billion to $2 billion for minority stakes in Rivian.

So far GM hasn’t commented on a possible investment in Rivian, but said, “We admire Rivian’s contribution to a future of zero emissions and an all-electric future,” in an email statement to Reuters.

Founded in 2009 by CEO R.J. Scaringe, Rivian plans to start production and sales of the R1T electric pickup truck in late 2020. Rivian launched the R1T at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

In a comment on the investment, Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer said, “We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation. R.J. has built an impressive organization, with a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative company.”

If GM joins Amazon in investing in Rivian, two deep pocket partners should increase the EV manufacturer’s chances of getting its planned vehicles into production, a massive undertaking for any automaker and fraught with challenges for new companies.

Rivian plans to offer the R1T with a choice of three battery packs, 105 kilowatt-hours (rated 402 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque), 135-kWh (rated 745 hp and 826 lb-ft of torque), and 180-kWh (rated 700 hp and 826 lb-ft of torque). Depending on the installed battery pack, the pickup could have supercar-class acceleration or outstanding range.

For example, the performance sweet spot would be the 135-kWh battery pack, which Rivian claims could enable the R1T to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds. The heavier 180-kWh battery setup gets to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, and the lightest weight but least powerful 105-kWh battery pack takes 4.9 seconds to hit 60 mph.

To compare the Rivian R1T’s acceleration, the 2019 Mustang Bullit, the fastest current production model except for the Shelby GT350, can hit 60 mph in 4.1 seconds with agile clutch work. Ford rates the 2020 Mustang GT500 at zero to 60 mph numbers in the “mid-three-second” range, and that’s with the GT500’s dual-clutch sub-100-millisecond-per-shift transmission. In the all-electric world, however, even the RIT’s 3.0 acceleration run pales in comparison to the Tesla Model S P100D in Ludicrous+ mode, which set a world record in 2017 when it took a skosh under 2.3 seconds to hit 60 mph.

So the RiT promises to be fast, which matters, but with electric vehicles range matters as much or more than how fast you can get to the next stoplight. With the 180-kWh battery pack, Rivian claims the R1T can travel up to 400 miles on a charge. Rivian rates the 105-kWh and 135-kWh battery pack versions at 230 miles and 300 miles of range, respectively.

With a claimed maximum towing capacity of 11,000 pounds, all-wheel drive thanks to an electric motor at each wheel, and an adjustable air suspension, the RIT will be a versatile beast. Inside, four passengers will all sit in bucket seats (two each front and back).

In addition to storage in the pickup box in the truck’s rear, a frunk (front trunk) will hold and hide luggage or other items out of sight. The frunk is possible because the battery pack and motors are all under the truck’s “skateboard” chassis.

Rivian’s plans include developing the R1T to Level 3 autonomous driving (self-driving on highways under certain conditions) and adding an SUV model to the line, the R1S.

Updated February 17, 2019, with information on Amazon’s investment.

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