Electric pickup trucks are on their way, and the stakes are exceptionally high. Ford’s F-Series has stood proud at the top of America’s sales chart for 38 consecutive years. It sells in massive numbers annually, and pickups tend to be more profitable than passenger cars and SUVs. The company that manages to pelt a battery-powered pickup into the mainstream will have it made. That’s why Rivian, a Michigan-based startup, has a lot riding on the R1T.
It’s an electric four-door, five-seater pickup developed with adventurers and nature lovers in mind. It’s closer in spirit to a Jeep Gladiator than to a Ford F-350. It’s new from the ground up, and it looks like one of the most attractive entries into this burgeoning segment — on paper, at least. As it inches toward production, we’re taking a look at what it is, what it does, how much it will cost, and when you’ll be able to explore the great outdoors in one.
It’s important to keep in mind the R1T has not entered production yet. The images used to illustrate this story show a prototype, and we don’t know what the final model will look like because it doesn’t exist as of writing. Everything we’re reporting is subject to change in the coming months, including design details and powertrain specifications.
What is it?
Introduced at the 2018 edition of the Los Angeles Auto Show, Rivian’s R1T quickly became the poster child of a new type of pickup that blends ruggedness, utility, comfort, and eco-friendliness. It measures 217 inches from bumper to bumper, 79.3 inches wide, and 71.5 inches tall, dimensions that put it in the same ballpark as the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado, two of America’s best-selling vehicles. It’s considerably heavier at 5,886 pounds, however.
Rivian has never built a car before. It was founded in 2009, so it had the luxury of starting from scratch without having to honor its heritage or keep purists satisfied. Its stylists gave the R1T a futuristic-looking design characterized by a horizontal light strip broken up by two smaller vertical bits, a grille-less front end, and heavily sculpted sides. Plastic trim on the rocker panels and over the wheel arches add a tough touch to the look.
What’s it like inside?
The R1T’s cabin is packed with technology but it doesn’t look or feel like it was beamed from outer space, if you catch our drift. Everything is right where you expect it to be. The driver faces a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel and relies on a tablet-like screen for key information about the truck and its surroundings. The center console takes the form of a generously sized armrest that covers a big storage compartment, and the center stack is dominated by a horizontal touchscreen that displays the infotainment system. Amazon Alexa compatibility will be baked right in; after all, the retailer has skin in the game. It has invested over $700 million into Rivian since 2009.
Front bench seats belong to the past, along with carburetors and ignition points, so only two passengers will be able to ride up front. Three more will fit in the back. As of writing, nothing suggests Rivian will add a smaller, cheaper version of the truck with two doors and two seats to the range, though we’re not completely ruling it out.
What’s under the sheet metal?
The R1T is built on an architecture Rivian developed in-house and refers to as a skateboard platform (shown above). It’s a little bit like the body-on-frame sedan your buddy drove in high school, but a lot more complex. The chassis includes the battery pack, the motors, suspension and brake components plus a long list of electronic equipment.
At launch, buyers will have three lithium-ion battery packs to choose from: 105, 135, and 180 kilowatt hours. The latter is giant; it’s almost twice as big as the largest pack in Tesla’s arsenal. They respectively correspond to a maximum driving range of 230, 300, and 400 miles. Rivian quotes a 3.0-second zero-to-60mph time for the truck’s quickest configuration, and a 4.9-second time (which is impressive for a heavy pickup) for the slowest version.
Regardless of its size, the battery pack will zap four electric motors. Rivian is putting one behind each wheel, which is a little bit unusual in the electric car segment. Most EVs sold new in 2020 use one motor per axle. The in-wheel configuration makes the truck more complex and correspondingly more expensive to build, but it improves its off-road capacity because software can control precisely how much torque goes to each wheel in real-time. That means the R1T can, in theory, be front-, rear-, left-, or rear-wheel drive. Or one-wheel drive, if you have a need for it.
And it turns like a tank?
Tank Turn. Available on the R1T and R1S :) pic.twitter.com/AsRKnFJGWr
— Rivian (@Rivian) December 25, 2019
Yes. Well, sort of. Rivian doesn’t plan to offer the R1T with tracks, but the truck’s unique powertrain layout makes it possible to simultaneously spin the right wheels in the opposite direction as the left wheels to perform a 180-degree turn on its own axis. The odds of needing this feature on your daily commute are extremely low, but it could come in handy if you plan to explore the great outdoors. GMC’s Hurricane Turn function is similar, but V8-powered.
What about accessories?
The Tank Turn function slots on the R1T’s impressive roster of capabilities. Rivian also developed a portable kitchen that slides into the wide storage compartment carved out behind the cab. It includes drawers for pots, pans, and other utensils, a small countertop, and a stove that draws electricity from the battery pack to grill your burgers. Other accessories (including a tent) will be available from Rivian and aftermarket manufacturers.
How much will it cost?
Pricing, like much else, is enigmatic. Rivian announced a base price of $69,000 before applicable incentives, but it changed its mind in early 2020 and noted that figure corresponds to a well-equipped model. We still don’t know how much the R1T will cost in its cheapest configuration, but we expect well-equipped trucks fitted with the biggest battery pack and decked out with all of the made-for-Instagram bells and whistles to land in six-digit territory.
Motorists who want to secure an early build slot can send the company a refundable $1,000 deposit. Rivian hasn’t revealed how many pre-orders it has received yet, though it affirmed response has been “really positive.”
When can I drive one?
Rivian’s R1T and R1S were originally scheduled to enter production in late 2020, and deliveries should have started at about the same time. Like a vast majority of the automakers operating in the United States, Rivian idled its entire manufacturing network in March 2020, and the shutdown came at the worst possible time for the young brand. It was in the process of retooling the factory it purchased from Mitsubishi in Normal, Illinois, to convert it into a state-of-the-art facility capable of making thousands of battery-powered off-roaders annually. Although Rivian went to great lengths to minimize disruptions, it confirmed the first examples won’t reach reservation holders until 2021. There’s no word on whether deliveries will start early or late in the year.
What about other vehicles built on Rivian’s platform?
Rivian is open to the idea of letting other automakers use its skateboard platform; it cost a fortune to develop, so licensing it is a good way to offset the initial investment. Ford-owned Lincoln announced plans to build a luxurious SUV on Rivian bones but it quickly backpedaled for reasons that remain a little murky. The company stressed it still wants to introduce a battery-powered SUV in the early 2020s, though details about it are few and far between.
Pininfarina hoped to build its first SUV on Rivian’s skateboard platform until Amazon squashed the project. “We intended to work with Rivian until November 2018, but then Amazon acquired part of the company and asked it to focus only on its own models, and not to work with anyone who is not a shareholder,” Autocar reported.
Speaking of, Rivian remains committed to building 100,000 delivery vans (pictured above) for Amazon starting in 2021. It’s too early to tell whether the jumbo-sized van will share major components with the R1T and the R1S.
Isn’t there an SUV?
If you like the R1T but pickup trucks aren’t your cup of tea, Rivian plans to introduce a seven-seater SUV named R1S (pictured above) that offers the exact same powertrain and technology in a more spacious package. The two models will be built on the same assembly line, and what we said about the R1T applies to the R1S. We don’t know precisely when it will enter production, though rumors claim Rivian is prioritizing the pickup, or how much it will cost.