America's Electric Car Evolution
The electric vehicle evolution seems to be shifting the balance of power in the automotive industry back to North America. While existing global brands – domestic and import – are introducing new electric vehicles, many of the most exciting new electric brands have started up in our own backyards. Tesla, Lucid, and now Rivian are tapping into Silicon Valley’s brains, and combining that tech know-how with the manufacturing know-how that America has always had. The result could be an American share of the EV marketplace the company hasn’t had since the glory days of the big three.
Rivian, a new American company with a focus on electrically-driven trucks, is a uniquely American success story, with facilities across the country that contribute to its distinctive, ground-up EV pickup and SUV. Design and engineering takes place primarily in California; manufacturing happens in Illinois; Michigan is where most development and testing happens; and Arizona is the site of a dedicated test center. It’s all tied together in a very modern, technologically-distributed company built on the latest technology.
All-Electric From the Start
The R1T, Rivian’s first product, is a pickup truck built from the ground up to be an EV. Not based on an existing architecture like, for example, the Ford F150 Lightning, it has some inherent advantages. Instead of the battery “fitting into” the R1T’s architecture, the truck is literally built around the battery packs and drive units. Together, they lay in a flat, almost skateboard-like package that not only provides a surprisingly low center of gravity compared to other off-road trucks, but also enable an exceptionally roomy cabin perched above – no transmission “hump,” no compromised packaging.
Four electric motors are combined into two packages, the front delivering 415 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels, and the second delivering 420 hp and 495 lb-ft to the rear wheels. Each package integrates a pair of motors and a gearbox, and allows the R1T to precisely adjust the amount of torque going to each wheel for exceptional traction and stability. The four motors’ torque-vectoring function also permits a plethora of drive modes, everything from an “all purpose” all- mode through sport, off-road, rock crawling, rally, tow, range, and even a “drift” mode when you’re playing in the dirt.
The drive modes interact not just with the powertrain, but also with the R1T’s standard four-corner independent air suspension, which allows you to adjust the truck’s ride height by up to six inches, and also features adaptive damping and hydraulic roll control. The latter uses hydraulic actuators instead of conventional anti-roll bars to “push” against roll on-road to minimize body lean, while decoupling completely off-road to permit for greater wheel travel and a smoother ride. The R1T’s trick suspension also has a self-leveling function, which contributes to excellent trailer-towing ability; indeed, it will tow up to 11,000 pounds!
The electric-first approach to the R1T’s design means that its five-seat cabin is remarkably spacious – wide and long and with great visibility. The truck bed has a built-in tonneau cover (powered on higher trim levels) and features two household plugs to power tools and other gear. There’s a front trunk (a “frunk,” if you will) where the engine would normally go in a gasoline truck, numerous storage spaces inside, and an ingenious “gear tunnel” between the cabin and the bed with doors on either side. It’s big enough to hold a pop-up tent, or the accessory “camp kitchen” that Rivian offers for outdoor adventures. Indeed, the R1T offers a huge 62 cubic feet of storage space on top of the truck bed.
From a battery and charging perspective, all R1Ts are equipped the same. They have the same four motors, same power output, and same massive 135-kWh battery that delivers 314 miles of EPA estimated range. 200-kW on-board charging is standard, and presuming you find a charger that can deliver that much juice, you can add 140 miles of range to your R1T in just 20 minutes. The company promises upgrades to 300-kW charging in the future, which will further reduce charging times.
More Electric Adventures to Come
The company is also investing in building a “Rivian Adventure Network” of 3,500 level 3 chargers across North America, at 600 locations, by the end of 2023. This will be joined by a network of 10,000 Rivian-branded level 2 “Waypoints” by the end of 2023, which will offer plug-and-charge capability without requiring an app or a credit card swipe. Waypoints will deliver 25 miles of range per hour of charging. The R1T uses the industry-standard CCS plug for rapid charging, making it compatible with thousands of other chargers nationwide. An optional home wall charger delivers 11.5-kW capability, and a portable charger that can run on a 120 or 220-volt plug is standard.
Three trim levels of R1T were available at launch. The totally-loaded Launch Edition has sold out, leaving two other choices, the entry-level “Explore” model at $67,500, and the level up “Adventure” at $73,000. Both have the same powertrain, range, and technical capabilities, but are distinguished by their level of standard equipment. Upgrading to the Adventure gives you ash wood interior trim, ventilated vegan-leather seats, a high-end Meridian audio system, a power tonneau cover for the bed, and a few more goodies. Both vehicles are eligible for the $7,500 federal incentives, and others, depending on where you live.
Rivian plans to start delivering R1Ts in early 2022, and Launch Edition customers will be the first to receive their trucks. The R1T will be joined by an R1S, a boxy-looking but equally-innovative SUV built on the same platform. Watch the GreenCars blog for more information on that vehicle as it nears production.