What's a Rivian? We're not surprised at the question, because not only has this fledgling U.S. automaker not yet brought any product to market, it hasn't made much noise about what it's been up to. But the automaker's getting close, as evidenced by its very public unveiling of the intriguing 2021 Rivian R1T, a working prototype of a fully electric pickup truck it's been toiling over for some time.
As you might imagine, the R1T is no ordinary pickup. For one, this all-electric machine has four motors, one for each wheel. And its performance specs are impressive. It's built to tow as much as 11,000 pounds. And when it is empty, it can either accelerate to 60 mph in as little as 3 seconds or cruise for 400 miles on a single charge. Want to go off-road? Its height-adjustable air suspension can deliver up to 14.2 inches of ground clearance, and the claimed water-fording depth is 39 inches — a full meter in new money.
Sizewise, the R1T is a bit of a tweener. It's not as big as your average 1500 series full-size crew-cab truck, but it's bigger than any crew-cab truck you'll see in the midsize segment. Its wheelbase of 135.8 inches sits halfway between crew-cab short-bed examples of the Ram 1500 (144.6 inches) and the Honda Ridgeline (125.2 inches), but it is only 6 inches longer than the Ridgeline and stands only three-quarters of an inch taller.
But that's when the R1T is parked at a curb. The Rivian's double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspensions utilize height-adjustable air springs that allow it to be raised and lowered significantly. It runs around with 11 inches of ground clearance in Normal mode, and that shrinks to 9.4 inches when cruising at highway speeds. It can drop a further 1.5 inches to ease loading when parked. At the other end of the spectrum, Off-Road mode raises the truck to provide as much as 14.2 inches of ground clearance.
Power and Range
The Rivian rolls around on a skateboard platform that contains the suspension, the four motors and the battery pack. Each motor is rated at 147 kilowatts, and total combined output can be as high as 562 kW, which equates to 753 horsepower. The cool part about having four motors is that it allows supremely accurate traction control and torque vectoring using nothing but software control. In theory, it means there are no differentials to lock or unlock either.
Rivian plans to offer three sizes of battery pack, which in turn leads to three different ranges — although all range numbers are mere estimates at this point. The automaker says it'll offer two of them at launch — a 135-kilowatt-hour pack that'll be good for over 300 miles and a 180-kWh pack good for over 400 miles. A smaller 105-kWh pack good for over 250 miles will go into production six months to a year after the other two. For reference, the biggest pack you can get in a Tesla is 100 kWh of capacity.
As a pickup, the Rivian needs more capacity because consumption goes up considerably when towing, a reality we've confirmed for ourselves when towing a rather small trailer with a Tesla Model X. But it's also about having enough range to get out of town and have adventures. The R1T aims to be a lifestyle truck, not an outright workhorse.
Unique Storage Features
To that end, the R1T is unusual in its use of space. At just 55 inches long, its truck bed is stubbier than most. But it has a front trunk under the hood because, well, there's no engine under there. And the bed offers an underfloor trunk of its own that's suitable for a full-size spare. But the weirdest and coolest part may be something Rivian calls a gear tunnel, which is a lockable space behind the cab and under the bed that can hold golf bags and snowboards. Accessible from either side of the truck, its doors open in such a way that they also function as bed steps.
We've not yet driven the R1T, so it's hard to comment about the ergonomics of its interior layout and the usefulness of its unique infotainment system. Few such details have been released, but Rivian has outlined a fully connected system that will readily enable over-the-air software updates. Tesla owners tend to love this functionality, but it can also lead to sloppy development practices.
As for automated driving, Rivian says it's building the R1T with the hardware necessary to support Level 3 automation on the highway. Whether this functionality will be enabled when vehicle deliveries begin remains to be seen. We've learned to take any such announcements with a grain of salt, but the automaker does not seem to be making wild claims at this stage.
When and How Much?
Rivian, whose manufacturing plant is in Normal, Illinois, has just begun taking $1,000 refundable deposits, and it has announced a starting price of $69,000, with $7,500 of that coming back in the form of a federal tax credit. That's undoubtedly the price of the base truck with the small battery that won't be initially sold, so we advise cautious use of that figure. After all, the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 base model has still failed to materialize after many schedule slips. Look for more R1T pricing details to emerge in the coming months.
The 2021 Rivian R1T pickup is still a long way off, but the way Rivian has flown under the radar until the automaker had something to show gives us confidence that it might pull this off. The truck looks good, its claimed performance seems achievable, and Rivian still has nearly two years to refine the product before it begins deliveries in late 2020. Until then, watch this space for more updates and an eventual first drive of the Rivian R1T.