Rivian has joined the list of carmakers old and new who want to end Ford’s 39-year reign over America’s sales chart. While it’s not a household name, at least not yet, it became the first company to release a mass-produced electric pickup in the United States. Sure, there have been others: Ford built an electric Ranger in the 1990s as a bit of an experiment. This is different: Rivian is aiming for volume.
The R1T is a four-door, five-seater model developed with adventurers and nature lovers in mind. It’s closer in spirit to a Jeep Gladiator that you might see on a trail in Moab than to a Ford F-350 your utility company might use. It’s new from the ground up, and it looks like one of the most attractive entries into this burgeoning segment — Digital Trends put it through its paces on and off the pavement and walked away seriously impressed. Production has finally started so we’re taking a look at what it is, what it does, how much it costs, and what’s next.
What is it?
Introduced at the 2018 edition of the Los Angeles Auto Show, Rivian’s R1T quickly became the poster child of a new type of pickup that blends ruggedness, utility, comfort, and eco-friendliness. It measures 217 inches from bumper to bumper, 79.3 inches wide, and 71.5 inches tall, dimensions that put it in the same ballpark as the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado, two of America’s best-selling vehicles. It’s considerably heavier at 5,886 pounds, however. Electric technology adds a lot of weight, and there’s little that companies can do to offset it.
Rivian was founded in 2009, and the R1T is its first car, so it had the luxury of starting from scratch without having to honor its heritage or keep purists satisfied. Its stylists gave the R1T a futuristic-looking design characterized by a horizontal light strip broken up by two smaller vertical bits, a grille-less front end, and heavily sculpted sides. The plastic trim on the rocker panels and over the wheel arches adds a tough touch to the look. And, surprisingly, the model that entered production in Normal, Illinois, in 2021 looks almost exactly like the 2018 concept.
What’s it like inside?
The R1T’s cabin is packed with technology but it doesn’t look or feel like it was beamed from outer space, if you catch our drift. Everything is right where you expect it to be. The driver faces a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel and relies on a tablet-like 16-inch screen for key information about the truck and its surroundings. The center console takes the form of a generously sized armrest that covers a big storage compartment, and the center stack is dominated by a horizontal touchscreen that displays the infotainment system. Amazon Alexa compatibility will be baked right in; after all, the retailer has skin in the game. It has invested over $700 million into Rivian since 2009. However, the company confirmed that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available. SiriusXM satellite radio isn’t offered, either.
Eschewing these technologies, which nearly every car company makes available, is odd. After all, Rivian owners have smartphones and like music, too, so what gives? Nothing is official, but something tells us Amazon sees this as a good opportunity to catch up with its tech rivals in the automotive industry. Rivian noted both systems could be added later via an over-the-air software update if there is enough demand.
Front bench seats belong to the past so only two passengers can ride up front. Three more fit in the back. As of writing, nothing suggests Rivian will add a smaller, cheaper version of the truck with two doors and two seats to the range, though we’re not completely ruling it out.
What’s under the sheet metal?
The R1T is built on an architecture Rivian developed in-house and refers to as a skateboard platform (shown above). It’s a bit like the body-on-frame sedan your buddy drove in high school, but a lot more complex. The chassis includes the battery pack, the electric motors, the suspension and brake components plus a long list of electronic equipment. The body is mounted directly over this skateboard.
Buyers have two lithium-ion battery packs called Large and Max, respectively, to choose from. Large comes standard, and it gives the truck a maximum driving range of 314 miles. Max costs $10,000 and it bumps that number up to 400. Keep in mind those figures are estimates; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t released official numbers yet. Regardless of size, the battery pack zaps four individual electric motors into motion. In its quickest configuration, the R1T can reach 60 mph from a stop in three seconds flat, which is amazing for a pickup.
Putting a motor behind each wheel is unusual in the electric car segment. Most EVs sold new in 2021 use one motor per axle. The one-per-wheel configuration makes the truck more complex, heavier, and correspondingly more expensive to build, but we’re told it improves off-road capacity because software can control precisely how much torque goes to each wheel in real-time. That means the R1T can, in theory, be front-, rear-, left-, or rear-wheel drive. Or one-wheel drive, if you have a need for it. There’s also an adjustable suspension system capable of giving the R1T nearly 15 inches of ground clearance and the ability to drive through nearly three feet of water. This is a serious off-roader.
And it turns like a tank?
Tank Turn. Available on the R1T and R1S :) pic.twitter.com/AsRKnFJGWr
— Rivian (@Rivian) December 25, 2019
Yes. Well, sort of. Rivian doesn’t plan to offer the R1T with tracks, but the truck’s unique powertrain layout makes it possible to simultaneously spin the right wheels in the opposite direction as the left wheels to perform a 180-degree turn on its own axis. The odds of needing this feature on your daily commute are extremely low, but it could come in handy if you plan to explore the great outdoors.
GMC’s Hurricane Turn function is similar, but V8-powered.
What about accessories?
The Tank Turn function slots on the R1T’s impressive roster of capabilities. Rivian also developed a portable kitchen that slides into the wide storage compartment carved out behind the cab. It includes drawers for pots, pans, and other utensils, a small countertop, and a stove that draws electricity from the battery pack to grill your burgers. Several other accessories (including a three-person tent) are available as well.
How much does it cost?
Rivian announced that the Launch Edition model is sold out, so buyers are left with two variants called Explore Package and Adventure Package, respectively. Pricing for the entry-level Explore truck starts at $67,500 before the destination charge (which is like shipping and handling for cars) and incentives enter the equation. Customers will need to set aside $73,000 for the Adventure version.
Both are relatively well equipped. Explore models come standard with the aforementioned Large battery pack, a manual tonneau cover for the cargo box, an air compressor, black interior trim, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel, among other features. Stepping up to the Adventure model brings a power-operated tonneau cover, Meridian sound system, wood interior trim, heated and ventilated seats, and yellow interior accents. Options are numerous: that gorgeous blue paint is priced at $2,500, for example. Buyers can also order different wheel designs, a spare tire (which costs a massive $600!), and a $2,000 Off-Road Upgrade package that bundles skid plates and front tow hooks.
When can I drive one?
Rivian’s R1T and R1S were originally scheduled to enter production in late 2020, and deliveries should have started at about the same time. Like a vast majority of the automakers operating in the United States, Rivian idled its entire manufacturing network in March 2020, and the shutdown came at the worst possible time for the young brand. It was in the process of retooling the factory it purchased from Mitsubishi in Normal, Illinois, to convert it into a state-of-the-art facility capable of making thousands of battery-powered off-roaders annually.
Deliveries of the Launch Edition model started in the fall of 2021. The other trims should begin to reach buyers across the United States in early 2022. Rivian doesn’t have dealerships, it followed Tesla’s example and chooses to sell its trucks directly to consumers, but it plans to organize events where interested motorists can take an R1T for a spin. More information should be released later in 2021.
What’s it up against?
On the surface, the R1T needs to fend off competition from the entire pickup segment. In reality, the odds of someone cross-shopping a V8-powered Ram 2500 with the R1T are fairly low; they’re two very different vehicles aimed at a very different target audience. One of its main rivals will be the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning (shown above), which is scheduled to enter production in the spring of 2022. It’s based on the F-150, it should offer about 300 miles of driving range when fitted with the biggest available battery pack, and it’s priced at $39,974 before destination and incentives. Several trim levels will be available and the range-topping version will land squarely in R1T territory.
What about other vehicles built on Rivian’s platform?
Rivian is open to the idea of letting other automakers use its skateboard platform; it cost a fortune to develop, so licensing it is a good way to offset the initial investment. Ford-owned Lincoln announced plans to build a luxurious SUV on Rivian bones but it quickly backpedaled for reasons that remain murky. The company stressed it still wants to launch an EV in the early 2020s, though details are few and far between.
Pininfarina hoped to build its first SUV on Rivian’s skateboard platform until Amazon squashed the project. “We intended to work with Rivian until November 2018, but then Amazon acquired part of the company and asked it to focus only on its own models, and not to work with anyone who is not a shareholder,” Autocar reported.
Speaking of, Rivian remains committed to building 100,000 delivery vans (pictured above) for Amazon.
Isn’t there an SUV?
If you like the R1T but a pickup isn’t your cup of tea, you’re in luck. Rivian is preparing to introduce a seven-seater SUV named R1S (pictured above) that offers the exact same powertrain and technology in a more spacious package. Both models will be built on the same assembly line, and much of what we said about the R1T applies to the R1S. Deliveries of the Launch Edition model should start by the end of 2021.
Buyers will have the same two trim levels to choose from. Explore starts at $70,000, while Adventure carries a base price of $75,500.
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