It’s 2020, and there is not a single electric pickup truck you can buy new in the United States. There are several different models you can reserve, but you’ll need to wait at least a few months before taking delivery. The segment will get really crowded, really quickly in the coming years as companies scale up their offensive. Tesla and newcomer Rivian are among the automakers allocating a considerable amount of money to building a zero-emissions truck.
Unveiled in 2019, Tesla’s Cybertruck is unlike any vehicle we’ve seen before. Rivian’s R1T is a lot less futuristic in terms of design, but it’s still a hugely innovative model. We’re putting these two trucks side by side to see where they’re similar, and how they’re different. Keep in mind that neither model is in production, so the comparison is purely hypothetical, and the specifications listed below could very well change in the coming months and years.
Design and technology
First, the basics. The Rivian R1T measures 217 inches from bumper to bumper, 79.3 inches wide, and 71.5 inches tall. At 231 inches long, the Cybertruck has a considerably bigger footprint. It’s 79.8 inches wide and 75 inches tall, so the two models are comparable when it comes to width and height. Rivian pegs the R1T’s weight at 5,886 pounds, while Tesla has chosen not to reveal what its Cybertruck tips the scale at. Odds are it’s in the 6,000-pound ballpark, too. The company hinted it’s developing the model as a Class 2B truck, meaning it will compete in the same segment as the Ford Super Duty, and the production model will be a little bit narrower than the concept that previewed it.
Design is subjective, so we won’t spend too much time talking about it. Let’s just say the Cybertruck is, well, a cyber truck, while the R1T wears a much more conventional design with relatively familiar proportions. Besides, it’s what’s inside that counts, right? The R1T offers space for five passengers in a cabin designed to be as relaxing as possible. Everything is where you expect it to be. There’s a digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, and a touchscreen for the infotainment system embedded into the middle of the dashboard. The concept’s interior looked nearly ready for production, and we don’t expect it will change significantly in the coming months.
Stepping into the Cybertruck is a little bit what commuting on Mars must feel like. Its cavernous cabin offers seating for six, and it takes the minimalism Tesla is known for to new heights with a 17-inch touchscreen propped up right in the middle of the dashboard. There’s no instrument cluster, and the driver steers using a rectangular tiller often seen on concept cars. We imagine the steering wheel will be round when the truck reaches production. For the rest, what you see is most likely what you’ll get, as Tesla is known for bringing unusual designs to production. The touchscreen runs a new version of the company’s infotainment system that its other cars — like the Roadster — will receive.
Rivian pledged the R1T will offer a long list of electronic driving aids, like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, and buyers will be able to order level 3 semiautonomous technology at an extra cost. Level 3 doesn’t make the R1T driverless, far from it, but it can take over on the highway when certain conditions are met, and allow the driver to take his or her attention off the road. There are legal hurdles to clear before making such a system available, however. Audi notably tried to bring its technology to America and decided it wasn’t worth the investment due to the immense amount of red tape it would have needed to clear.
The Cybertruck is available with Tesla’s Autopilot suite of electronic driving aids, and buyers can pay extra for full self-driving. So, it will be totally autonomous, right? No way. Those who pay extra for full self-driving will get a truck that’s ready to receive autonomous technology when Tesla finalizes it, and when the government declares it’s safe to roll it out. No timeframe has been provided yet, and we expect electric trucks will arrive before self-driving cars.
The R1T and the Cybertruck are both electric, but their specifications sheets look nothing alike. Rivian has also been markedly more transparent about what powers its truck than Tesla. Buyers will have three lithium-ion battery pack sizes to choose from: 105 kWh, 135 kWh, and 180 kWh. They respectively correspond to a maximum driving range of 230, 300, and 400 miles. And, because ultraquick electric cars are all the rage right now, the three R1T variants will boast a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.9, 3.0, and 3.2 seconds, respectively. That’s seriously quick.
In theory, the R1T can be front-, rear-, right-, or left-wheel drive. How cool is that?
Interestingly, the battery pack — regardless of its size — will zap four electric motors. Rivian chose to position a motor behind each wheel, rather than one per axle, which is the norm in the electric car segment. This strategy makes the truck a little bit more complex, and more expensive to build, but it’s a real boon off-road, because it’s easy to control precisely how much torque is going to each wheel in real-time. In theory, the R1T can be front-, rear-, right-, or left-wheel drive. How cool is that? This layout enables a neat tank turn feature, too.
Tesla will also offer the Cybertruck with three battery options, but it hasn’t revealed how big each one will be. There’s an entry-level model with 250 miles of range and a zero-to-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds, a midrange model that delivers up to 300 miles of range and takes 4.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop, and a range-topping model with a 500-mile range and a jaw-dropping 2.9-second zero-to-60-mph time.
The Tesla’s powertrain is more conventional. Its battery is located directly under the passenger compartment, like the R1T’s, but the entry-level model uses a single electric motor integrated into the rear axle. The midrange model brings dual-motor all-wheel drive (so, an additional motor built into the front axle), while the flagship variant receives a triple-motor powertrain that the company hasn’t detailed yet. It’s expected to be similar — if not identical to — the Plaid powertrain it’s developing to turn the Model S into a record-breaking track car.
Acceleration times are impressive, but they’re rather useless in this context. No one gets a pickup to win races. Truck buyers are more likely to care about towing capacity, payload, and off-road prowess. The R1T boasts a 1,764-pound payload, and a towing capacity of about 11,000 pounds. Fitted with an adjustable air suspension, it has 14.2 inches of ground clearance, a 34-degree approach angle, and a 30-degree departure angle. The Cybertruck’s payload is rated at 3,500 pounds, which is massive, and it can tow up to 14,000 pounds. Also fitted with an adjustable air suspension, it sits 16 inches off the ground, and offers approach and departure angles of 35 and 28 degrees, respectively.
Pricing and availability
The Rivian R1T starts at $69,000, and you can reserve one by sending the company a refundable $1,000 deposit. Pricing for the high-horsepower, long-range models hasn’t been revealed yet, but don’t be surprised to see a six-figure sum on the bottom line. To sweeten the deal, buyers will be able to claim a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government because Rivian is a new automaker that hasn’t built a single car yet.
Rivian purchased a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois, and it’s in the process of retooling it to build the R1T and a technically similar SUV named R1S. Deliveries are tentatively scheduled to begin in November 2020. We say tentatively, because Rivian is a new automaker that has never built a car before, so hiccups aren’t inconceivable. With that said, shareholders Ford and Amazon are respectively providing expertise and dollars to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. It’s in their best interest; Ford’s Lincoln division will build a Rivian-based SUV, while Amazon will monetize its investment in the firm by buying thousands of delivery vans from it.
If it’s the Tesla you’re after, you can secure an early build slot by sending the company a refundable $100 deposit. The entry-level, rear-wheel drive model starts at $39,000, the midrange truck carries a $49,000 base price, and plan on spending $69,000 for the range-topping model. Tesla buyers stopped being eligible to receive a tax credit for the federal government on January 1, 2020, but they may nonetheless qualify for state-sponsored incentives.
Tesla predicts it will start building the cheaper variants of the Cybertruck in late 2020.
I don’t like either — what do I do?
So, you’re not a fan of the Rivian or the Cybertruck. No worries; the list of companies that want a slice of the as-of-yet-unbaked electric pickup cake grows on a monthly basis. Ford is busily developing hybrid and electric variants of the F-150, America’s best-selling truck for several decades. General Motors isn’t far behind, and it’s resurrecting the Hummer name for the occasion. Yes, that Hummer. GMC will sell an electric pickup named Hummer.
The startup team is getting crowded, too. Bollinger’s B2 (shown above) has a mammoth amount of horsepower, all the style of a Tonka truck, and a $125,000 base price. Lordstown Motors — based, you guessed it, in Lordstown, Ohio — boldly claimed it will beat everyone to the punch by making the Endurance available in late 2020. Karma (which is owned by a Chinese auto parts giant) plans an electrified pickup of sorts, as does a California-based firm named Neuron EV. Fisker hinted it could join the party, too.
There will be many others. The electric car segment is about to become a truckfest. It makes a lot of sense. Trucks are in hot demand, and they normally offer fat profit margins. Electric cars, on the other hand, are tremendously expensive to develop and build. It’s easier to offset the cost of designing an electric powertrain by selling a $70,000 pickup than by trying to peddle $15,000 hatchbacks. Building cars is hard, however, and electric vehicles make up only 2% of the new car market in America (slightly more than vehicles with a manual transmission), so it will be interesting to watch how many of these projects actually spawn a production model.
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