Out of Stealth Mode, New Company Shows Power Truck EVs
It’s not as though no one’s talked about electrifying the all-American pickup truck. Various mild, full hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric versions have been introduced during the past decade by a potporrie of OEMs and start-ups. But Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, marked a new and seemingly more significant new model. The star of the technology day at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, dubbed AutoMobility LA, were the sibling R1T and R1S. The alphanumeric designations indicate the first full electric full-size truck and its companion SUV.
The trucks, unveiled in near-production form, build conventional looking bodies on a skateboard battery and power it with 147-horsepower electric motors at each wheel. Although the profiles may look similar to current models, the front definitely defines it as an electric car trying to make an impression.
I’ve spent a good portion of my career around trucks and SUVs and my first impression is that these guys get it! The proportions, performance and functionality should appeal to the traditional truck buyer while the addition of electric drive opens up a whole new market. Assuming they can execute it (always a question with a start-up, even if it’s nine years old, has 500 employees and has received $450 million in private funding).
The key engineering for the Rivian vehicles comes out of its Michigan office, and the specs show they’ve staffed up with engineers who not only know, but love trucks. That’s how you come out with the massive power numbers, sophisticated suspension built around long half shafts that enhance the flexibility and ground clearance of the trucks, and stats like a 34-degree approach angle, 30-degree departure angle and a 26-degree breakover angle (for the pickup; the SUV is 30-degrees).
If those numbers don’t mean anything to you, you haven’t spent much time driving a truck off-road. They are the critical performance numbers for a core segment of buyers in this market. The 0-to-100 mph in seven seconds will take care of another group of enthusiasts, while the 11,000-pound towing capability will appeal to another. Finally, there’s the posh, but functional interior that will attract another group of potential buyers.
So, When Is This Real?
Rivian announced that its pickup is in final testing and validation and will begin production in the recently purchased Normal, Illinois, plant in 2020 for delivery in the latter half of that year. Pricing has been announced as starting at $69,000 for the pickup (before incentives), although that is clearly for the base model (105 kWh batteries, 230-mile range), which the company says will not be produced initially.
Taking a page from Tesla’s playbook, Rivian is going to start producing the high-end models with the 180 kWh/400-mile range batteries, allowing it to bring in top dollar from early adopters will cash to burn. The company, which is selling vehicles direct a la Tesla, is accepting $1,000 refundable deposits.
The Rivian R1T and R1S were designed from a clean sheet of paper, as founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe, a mechanical engineer and MIT grad, told the crowd at the LA unveiling. He emphasized that the clean sheet did not mean repudiating the past, just disrupting the powertrain and related components, then playing out the changes that enabled in the overall vehicle design. It looks like a winner; we can’t wait to drive one.