Here’s what’s next for Rivian, the electric vehicle startup


PLYMOUTH, Mich. — busted out of the gates at the L.A. Auto Show last week with its R1T pickup and R1S SUV. Just before then, Rivian invited us out to its headquarters in Plymouth, Mich., to show us its chic digs and tell us about its plans for the next couple of years.

Like every electric car company, Rivian boasted performance stats that are hard to believe. Both the R1T and R1S will apparently top 400 miles of range, can go from 0-60 mph in 3 seconds and can absolutely own an off-road course. You can read everything we know about the truck and SUV in our L.A. Auto Show coverage, but we’re going to share some other unique, and not so unique, ideas Rivian threw at us during our visit in Michigan.

For one, Rivian says it plans to start out with a direct sales model, similar to Tesla. This comes as no surprise — Rivian wants to keep the price as low as it can by cutting out the middleman. That would mean online purchases plus storefronts similar to Tesla’s galleries. It would also mean Rivian would not be able to sell its vehicles in Texas and other truck-hungry states that don’t allow direct car sales.

Rivian also designed and is marketing its truck and SUV as adventure vehicles. It wants you to take them into the wilderness and go exploring in unknown places. There’s one glaring problem with that idea: recharging. Even if you have the mammoth 400-mile range version, driving into the middle of nowhere involves traveling long distances and once you get there, fast-charging stations tend to be rather scarce.

Many people also use trucks to tow a motorhome or something else heavy when adventuring across the country. Fuel mileage always takes a massive hit when towing, just as electric range would when taking advantage of the R1T’s 11,000-pound towing rating.

Rivian says it will answer these problems by building a small Rivian-branded charging network in “places of adventure.” Think national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and other places like that. Still, building a charging network takes time. Tesla’s supercharging network is the most substantial cross-country charging network we have, and that took years to build. Rivian was extremely light on details for these off-the-beaten-track charging stations too, so count us as skeptical for now.

Post-purchase power upgrades was another area where Rivian had some unique ideas. Say you bought the cheaper, lower-power R1T pickup, but decide you want to go faster after owning it for a time. Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe says that will be possible. He has even wilder ideas for how Rivian can treat power upgrades, too. He talked to us about the possibilities of a customer paying to unlock the full power potential of their car for set periods of time, like if you wanted to go to the dragstrip one day. It could be feasible for an owner to pay Rivian a set fee to get a power bump for a week, but then the truck goes back to normal afterwards. Scaringe even went so far as to suggest a program to unlock full power for free on a customer’s birthday. These ideas are novel, and certainly give us something else to consider about the EV future.

The real question with all this is whether Rivian will ever actually sell a car. There aren’t any Faraday-sized cracks in its funding or manufacturing plans at present (Rivian is already in the process of retooling the old Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill., that it purchased), but we still have two years until either the R1S or R1T are set to see the light of day — the first trucks are tabbed for deliveries in fall 2020. A lot can (or cannot) happen in that time.

For now, Rivian is basking in the L.A. Auto Show glow. What happens after this is anyone’s guess. We’ve seen how hard it’s been for Tesla and Elon Musk. RJ Scaringe and Rivian also have a steep hill they’ve been climbing for the past nine years leading to this debut. The vehicles Rivian showed are undeniably impressive — now it’s time to sit back and watch it all happen.

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