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Startup Rivian exits stealth mode with a bold promise to electrify off-roaders

Rivian pickup truck teaser

A startup automaker named Rivian is preparing to make its debut on the American stage. Founded in 2009, it has finally announced details about its future lineup and what it plans on doing with the former Mitsubishi factory it purchased in Normal, Illinois. It also released a teaser video that previews one of the concept cars we’ll see at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

RJ Scaringe, Rivian’s 35-year-old founder, initially wanted to build a super-efficient internal combustion engine. He changed course several years ago to focus on electric vehicles. Tesla currently dominates the segment, and well-established car companies like Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz will soon join the tussle. Instead of entering the luxury EV ring, Rivian boldly aims to apply the Tesla model to the world of off-roaders.

Website Engadget learned the firm currently plans to launch two models called R1T and R1S. Both will use battery-electric powertrains and offer level three autonomous capabilities. The R1T will take the form of a pickup truck closer to the Honda Ridgeline than to the Ford F-150, but with an ultra-rugged design that offers a clean break from the conventional notion of a truck. The R1S nameplate denotes an SUV that will share over 90 percent of its components with the pickup model. Beyond that, details are few and far between.

Rivian’s project brief impresses — at least on paper. The R1T needs to safely drive through 3.6 feet of water, offer over 14 inches of ground clearance, and be capable of climbing 45-degree inclines. If it can achieve these benchmarks, it will, in theory, put a Jeep Wrangler to shame. And that’s just one of its personalities. Rivian promises the truck will handle better than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo thanks in part to an air suspension and roll control technology, and it will log a supercar-beating zero-to-60-mph time of 2.8 seconds in its most powerful configuration. It will offer up to 450 miles of driving range, too.

Design is one of the most effective ways to stand out in the automotive industry, and Rivian is going all-in. The last few seconds of the company’s enigmatic teaser video reveal the R1T will look almost robot-like thanks to a full-width LED light bar interrupted by two vertical rows of round LEDs.

“We’ve reimagined the truck and SUV, and have turned two of the most polluting vehicles on the road into the most considerate,” the company wrote on its website.

We’ll learn more about Rivian’s plans to electrify the off-roader segment when it reveals its first two vehicles at the annual Los Angeles Auto Show, which kicks off November 30. Production will kick off in 2020. Pricing will range between $50,000 and $90,000 before government incentives enter the equation. It’s not too far-fetched to assume the company will launch a Tesla-style reservation system after it unveils its future models.

Rivian already faces stiff competition. New York-based Bollinger Motors revealed an off-roader called the B1 last summer that fills roughly the same niche as Rivian’s upcoming SUV. It’s built on an aluminum chassis that weighs just 295 pounds, according to Green Car Reports, and it offers dual electric motors with full-time four-wheel drive. Details about pricing and availability aren’t solid yet.

Updated 11-16-2018: Added Rivian’s teaser video and details about the LA-bound concepts.

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