Rivian

From Rivian to Lucid, Start-Up EV Makers Are Flourishing—But for How Long?

From Rivian to Lucid, Start-Up EV Makers Are Flourishing—But for How Long?

As an automotive journalist of a certain vintage, I get approached from time to time for the occasional special project. A few years ago, I worked with a private-equity house that was considering investing in small British sports-car makers. As part of our research, we identified 22 new or revived brands that had launched over the previous 15 years, such as Invicta and Austin-Healey. Of those 22 start-ups, just one had survived: Ariel, which is still making its extreme, exoskeletal two-seaters to great acclaim but in tiny numbers.

Designing a new car is the easy bit; building it to scale with doors that thunk nicely is really hard. Ariel has endured by not bothering with either scale or doors—nor a windshield (unless ordered), roof nor pretty much any of the “comforts” of a conventional car. But a company building vehicles this way—simple to bolt together but with very limited appeal—is never going to make much money or announce an IPO. The other 21 start-ups, which mostly attempted to make normal sports cars, found it took longer and cost more than they hoped or could bear. It always does. The private-equity guys spent their cash elsewhere.
Until recently, the auto industry was better known for the demise of venerable old brands, such as Saab and Pontiac and Oldsmobile, than for the addition of new ones. Yet optimism and opportunism have always triumphed over the lessons of history, and I’ve often found myself reporting on yet another sports, luxury or EV start-up. I’ve taken them all seriously but not held my breath for their success.

But things are changing. There are arguably more credible start-up carmakers now—at least 20—than at any time since the earliest Wild West years of motoring in the 1900s and 1910s, when free thinking and divergence of design ruled the day. New premium brands such as Rivian, Lucid and Fisker aim to establish themselves as volume automakers while a raft of small-production, electric-hypercar start-ups such as Rimac, Drako and Piech are developing pure EVs with extreme performance to appeal to a younger clientele, often previously uninterested in fossil power.

The 2021 Rivian R1T. 

Rivian

The reasons for this sudden flourish are twofold (and kinda obvious): Tesla and electrification. Some will tell you that electric cars are easier to engineer than those with combustion engines, opening the door to novel entrants, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, fewer moving parts sit under the hood, but making the system function efficiently and striking the right balance between power, weight and range are truly challenging. That’s why brands such as Tesla and Rimac, which have been working hardest and longest on their own proprietary propulsion tech, still have a decisive lead in many areas over the mainstream carmakers, for all their R&D billions.

And sure, as a start-up you can just buy an electric drivetrain or even a complete rolling chassis from a supplier, which you can then clothe in a body of your own design. But carmakers have always been able to do that, sourcing engines from Mercedes, say, as Pagani and Aston Martin do.
Instead, the opportunity comes from the disruption being wreaked on the auto industry by electrification. It feels like the Wild West again, with a land grab to claim a spot in the EV territory. Mainstream carmakers have been slow to bring their own electric examples to market and haven’t always fully exploited the opportunities offered by EVs when they do. Customers are more open-minded, and we’re prepared to break old buying habits alongside our addiction to gas. And the huge capital needed to start mass-manufacturing cars is flowing relatively cheaply and easily from SPACs, deep-pocketed funds and individuals who want to be in on the ground floor of the next Tesla. The process is still costing more and taking longer than planned, but now you’re more likely to find the cash to cover it.
But while upstarts can make EVs, should we be buying them? As a consumer, you don’t want to be stuck with an automotive orphan whose parent company has died and taken with it the parts and ability to have your vehicle serviced in the future. You want your new car from a new maker to be the start of a fresh chapter in the history of motoring, not a footnote. But how do you spot the likely winners, either as a buyer or an investor?
It’s tough. We once thought up-and-comer premium brands needed to offer quality and a customer experience to match that of Porsche or Mercedes, which any start-up would struggle to do from the outset. But Tesla appears to be disproving that. Its riotous success is seemingly unaffected by its well-publicized quality woes. And I recently collected a Tesla from one of its delivery centers in the UK: a cheap white tent erected in a vast, otherwise deserted parking lot and heated (ironically) by a noisy diesel generator. It had all the comfort and glamour of a battlefield dressing station, but the paying customers around me didn’t seem to care. They just wanted their wheels.

The Tesla Model X. 

Tesla

That the vehicles themselves are so appealing and distinctive means we’re more apt to overlook these shortcomings. Stand- out design and a killer set of numbers are more important than the quality of the coffee in the showroom. It was easier for Tesla to gain an advantage here when the mainstream manufacturers hadn’t really woken up to EVs. Rivian is likely to have those advantages over most of its truck rivals, at least for a while, but in passenger cars it’s going to be harder for Tesla to maintain its lead—or for the newcomers to build one—as the legacy carmakers raise their EV game and everyone levels up. The new entrants will need to keep thinking and designing like start-ups, even when they no longer are.
Not all these newcomers are electric, of course. Gordon Murray’s T.50 hypercar uses a gloriously simple, naturally aspirated V-12 engine and a manual gearbox, and British chemicals billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is building the utilitarian, combustion-powered Ineos Grenadier off-roader to plug the gap left as Land Rover’s Defender moves upmarket.
But it’s the EV start-ups that excite me the most. They have the chance to change everything: the shape of the car industry, the markets and the rate at which we shift to electric propulsion and cut our emissions. If I conduct my survey of the current crop of start-ups again in 15 years’ time, when the disruption has eased and a little peace has come to this automotive Wild West, I think I’ll find more than one still standing.
Ben Oliver is an award-winning automotive journalist who writes from the UK.

Is Rivian Making a Blow Dryer for Its Electric Pickup? A New Patent Says Yes

Is Rivian Making a Blow Dryer for Its Electric Pickup? A New Patent Says Yes

Rivian wants to blow things out—literally.

Paperwork published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office at the end of last year suggests the EV maker is playing around with the idea of offering a blow dryer attachment for its vehicles. The accessory may sound completely unnecessary at first, but the add-on would have some legitimate practical uses, especially for those of us who like the outdoors.

The application, which Rivian filed in June of 2020 but was only published this past December 31, illustrates how the unique device would work. It outlines a dryer that can be attached to a vehicle’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system via a special connector. Once attached, the system would know to direct its airflow through the dryer. One especially interesting feature of the device, as noted by Motor1.com, is that the dryer would be able to emit both hot and cold air, though it’s unclear how you can control the temperature.

An image from Rivian’s patent application 

United States Patent and Trademark Office

We know what you’re thinking: That’s nifty and all, but do you really need access to a blow dryer while you’re driving? While we could see it coming in handy for someone who oversleeps and needs to finish getting ready on their commute, Rivian likely has other uses in mind. Motor1.com points out that it could really come in handy for Rivian owners who are also outdoor lovers. Who wouldn’t want to quickly dry off their gear or clothes after surfing or canoeing. Even better, the patent mentions a timer that means you could leave your stuff drying while you do something else.
Rivian did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Robb Report.
It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if the company eventually offers the dryer as an accessory for the R1S or R1T. After all, the automaker already offers one outdoor friendly add-on for its battery-powered pickup—a full camping kitchen that pops out the side of its pickup. Why not another?

First Drive: Why Rivian’s R1T Is the Electric Truck We’ve Been Waiting For

First Drive: Why Rivian’s R1T Is the Electric Truck We’ve Been Waiting For

It’s a steep climb up Wise Mountain. At more than 12,000 feet above sea level, the trail that ascends the tree line in the midst of the Rocky Mountains is one of the highest in Colorado. Most gasoline-powered cars here would be wheezing for air, much like those of us visiting from coastal regions, alternately sucking on cans of oxygen and stainless-steel water bottles. But the Rivian R1T electric truck progresses easily and almost silently up the route, with only the sound of crunching rock piercing the morning air.

It’s been a proverbial long climb for the electric-vehicle (EV) startup as well. Founded as Mainstream Motors in 2009 by MIT grad R.J. Scaringe, the company that later became Rivian was easy to dismiss as just another techie pipe dream when it showed a prototype sports car in 2011. In the years that followed, other EV startups appeared and struggled, or disappeared altogether: Nikola, Byton, Faraday Future, Lordstown Motors—all hoping to jump on the Tesla bandwagon and woo drivers with cool designs, name-brand executives and the promise of zero tailpipe emissions.

The all-electric Rivian R1T takes on one of Colorado’s many trails. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

Meanwhile, Scaringe and his team continued to toil, shifting their focus to trucks and utility vehicles and perfecting the marque’s hardware, software and business model. Rivian showed its first truck and SUV at the LA Auto Show in 2018, garnering the attention of not only the media and the public, but also some executives with deep pockets.
Not long after, Rivian got a $700 million investment led by Amazon. Just a few months later, Ford followed with a $500 million infusion, an unusual move considering the stalwart US manufacturer is launching its own lineup of electric vehicles, including the F-150 Lightning which, according to a Rivian spokesperson, shares no components or software with the EV startup.

On the road, the truck is smooth, responsive and quiet. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

On the craggy peaks outside of Breckenridge, a cadre of Rivian employees cheers as our test truck joins them at the summit. They are mostly engineers, with a smattering of designers, marketing executives and public-relations specialists. Not one looks close to 40 years of age, and each seems just as eager to be pushing the R1T to its limits as the small group of journalists invited here to drive. There’s a close-knit, casual, Silicon Valley–esque feel to them, which is not surprising since many of the Rivian group come from outside the automotive world. But it’s also clear that they realize the gravity of this moment, as they sit on the precipice of delivering the first round of vehicles to paying customers.

The Rivian R1T starts with a “skateboard” platform with a battery pack integrated into the vehicle frame. It’s powered by four electric motors—one on each wheel—for a total output of more than 800 hp and 900 ft lbs of torque. At high altitude, electric motors have the advantage of losing less power when the air gets thin compared with their naturally aspirated or turbocharged gas counterparts.

The R1T is able to continuously adjust torque and power at each corner, maximizing traction. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

Towing capacity for the R1T is rated at 11,000 pounds, and its payload capacity is claimed to be 1,760 pounds. Charging can be done with both J-plugs and CCS plugs, with range for the large battery pack estimated at 314 miles. The battery pack and drivetrain are covered by an eight-year/175,000-mile warranty, with a comprehensive warranty of five years/60,000 miles.
Because each wheel is powered independently, the R1T is able to continuously adjust torque and output at each corner, maximizing traction and easily extricating us from piles of loose rocks and slippery mud as we crawl up the trail. A maximum ride height of 14.4 inches helps us clear bigger boulders and rushing streams, with extra protection supplied by the reinforced underbody.
Settings are easy to select, simply tap “Offroad” mode on the large center screen and choose from Auto, Rock Crawl, Rally, or Drift. The regenerative-braking feature, when set to maximum, essentially acts as hill-descent control when going down steep grades. The kind of jostling one gets from a hardcore off-road descent could send some running for the nearest barf bag, but Rivian’s independent air suspension—with active damping, along with an electro-hydraulic roll-control system (in lieu of a mechanical anti-roll bar)—keeps the vehicle stable enough that we don’t need Dramamine (or a chiropractor) after several hours on rough terrain.

A reinforced underbody and maximum ride height of 14.4 inches helps the R1T clear bigger boulders and rushing streams. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

Of course, most R1T owners won’t be taking their trucks to the outer reaches of the wilderness. On the road, the truck is smooth, responsive and quiet, with options to adjust the levels of brake regen and the stiffness of the ride.

Much of what makes the R1T so appealing is its friendly, yet still rugged, design. The aesthetic is a kind of modern-day FJ-Cruiser-meets-Apple store, conceived by Jeff Hammoud, a former Chrysler designer who started with Rivian in 2017.  Over hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows the night before our off-road adventure, Hammoud tells us that he and his team wanted to make an impactful statement at first sight, and found inspiration in simplicity and functionality.

The large, horizontal screen serves as the command center for nearly all vehicle functions. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

The result is a distinctive design, led by a front face that is approachable and instantly recognizable. One of the key features of the R1T is what Rivian calls the “gear tunnel,” a pass-through storage space between the cabin and the bed that can stash everything from carry-on luggage to the optional camp-kitchen setup—complete with a two-burner induction cooktop and Snow Peak titanium dishes and utensils.

Rivian’s “gear tunnel” pass-through storage space. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

Inside, matte open-pore wood stretches across the instrument panel. All interior materials are vegan, with the microfiber headliner and textile floor mats made completely from recycled elements. The large, horizontal screen is intuitive and serves as the command center for almost all the vehicle functions. Nearly everything is controlled digitally, even the air vents, which change direction by dragging a finger around on a corresponding screen icon. Other common switches, such as those for the side mirrors, have been replaced by buttons on the steering wheel.

All interior materials are vegan. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

The R1T isn’t without its flaws, however. We were left shaking our heads at the tiny digital volume slider, which is difficult to modulate on the freeway or when going over bumps, resulting in us accidentally blasting out our passengers more than once. Notably, early versions of other manufacturers’ digital interfaces, including Ford’s SYNC and Cadillac’s CUE, featured touch-sensitive volume sliders but were later swapped with manual knobs due to overwhelming customer feedback.
We also had a couple of screen freezes; once while playing Spotify and another while trying to change drive modes on the trail. On the highway drive, we also were unable to activate the R1T’s lane-centering feature, a glitch that a reboot in a parking lot by a Rivian employee still couldn’t correct.

An optional camp-kitchen setup comes with a two-burner induction cooktop and Snow Peak titanium dishes and utensils. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

We were given the standard disclaimer, however, that these were prototype vehicles, and a Rivian representative tells us that customers awaiting their examples already know there will be some growing pains. He assured us that the ability to collect data from customer vehicles, once they’re on the road, combined with the speed of over-the-air updates, will help any bugs to be promptly squashed.

Towing capacity for the R1T is rated at 11,000 pounds, and its payload capacity is claimed to be 1,760 pounds. 

Photo by Elliot Ross, courtesy of Rivian Automotive LLC.

Rolling off the line now, the first to market will be the $73,000 Launch Edition, all of which have been spoken for. Other versions are expected to be delivered in early 2022. Each customer will be assigned a “Rivian guide” who will assist with everything from the buying process to service and support as long as the customer owns the truck.
Minor on-site service will be done by mobile technicians, while a pickup and delivery option will be offered for more extensive repairs. And a complimentary one-year membership includes unlimited charging on the Rivian network, off-road assistance and access to special events. In all, Rivian may have some further fine-tuning to make but, right now, the R1T is poised to be king of the hill.

Learn more about Robb Report’s 2022 Car of the Year at the event taking place in Napa Valley here and in Boca Raton here.

Watch the All-Electric Rivian R1T Truck Scale Utah’s Treacherous ‘Hells Gate’ Incline With Ease

Watch the All-Electric Rivian R1T Truck Scale Utah’s Treacherous ‘Hells Gate’ Incline With Ease

If you’re still unconvinced an electric truck can do everything its gas-powered counterpart can, a new video should quell your skepticism.

A four-minute clip posted to YouTube earlier this week by user Paddle Pedal Pedals shows the Rivian R1T tackling the infamous Hells Gate in Moab, Utah. And while the craggy incline is a tough ask of even the brawniest off-roader, the startup’s battery-powered pickup was able to scale it with surprising ease.

Hells Gate, which is located in the San Flats Recreation Area in eastern Utah, is a rock-covered path that’s known for being steep and treacherous. It’s also, as Autoblog points out, a popular spot for off-road enthusiasts to test the mettle of their 4x4s. In other words, a vehicle has to have some brute strength under the hood to conquer it.

Rivian R1T electric pickup truck 

Rivian

And that’s just what the R1T can be seen doing in Paddle Pedal Pedals’s video. It doesn’t exactly zip up the trail, but over the course of four minutes, the EV’s tires grab ahold of the rough surface and slowly but surely hoist it up the incline. There are no notable moments of backsliding, just steady and methodical progress. Even more impressive: The video’s description claims this is a stock R1T that hasn’t been modified in any way.
Of course, the truck’s performance in the clip shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Since the R1T was first announced, Rivian has insisted the EV would be able to do everything a gas-powered truck could and more. The zero-emission pickup boasts a quad-motor powertrain that can generate 800 hp and 900 ft lbs of torque, an 11,000-pound towing capacity and a range of 400 miles, if you opt for the bigger battery pack. Not too shabby for a vehicle that starts at $67,500.
Best of all, you won’t have to wait much longer to replicate the video’s feat yourself. Earlier this month, the R1T became the first battery powered pickup to go into production and deliveries have already begun. Our only suggestion—if you’re not an experienced off-roader, that is: Start with a smaller hill.

The Rivian R1T Just Became the First Electric Truck to Go Into Production

The Rivian R1T Just Became the First Electric Truck to Go Into Production

The electric truck era is finally upon us.

The first Rivian R1T pickup built for a customer rolled off the line at the startup’s production facility in Normal, Illinois on Tuesday. The milestone, which comes after several delays, makes the R1T the first from a new, buzzed-about crop of battery-powered trucks to make it into production.
“After months of building pre-production vehicles, this morning our first customer vehicle drove off our production line in Normal!” CEO RJ Scaringe wrote on Twitter, alongside photos of the finished vehicle. “Our team’s collective efforts have made this moment possible. Can’t wait to get these into the hands of our customers!”

After months of building pre-production vehicles, this morning our first customer vehicle drove off our production line in Normal!  Our team’s collective efforts have made this moment possible. Can’t wait to get these into the hands of our customers! pic.twitter.com/8ZidwTaXRI
— RJ Scaringe (@RJScaringe) September 14, 2021

The completion of the first customer-spec R1T isn’t just exciting for its lucky owner, it’s good news for anyone looking to get behind the wheel of one of the brand’s long awaited pickups, which start at $67,500. Production of the EV was originally supposed to begin last year but was delayed until this July because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Then the supply chain issues that have affected the rest of the auto industry for much of this year forced another delay. It now appears that Rivian has everything sorted out and is ready to begin building the thousands of electric trucks that have been pre-ordered. And while the brand hasn’t said anything about its sister SUV, the RS1, we wouldn’t be surprised if it goes into production soon, too.

Being first is about more than just about bragging rights for Rivian. It will also give the startup an important leg up on the competition. The next few years will see a glut of battery-powered pickups hit the market, including the GMC Hummer EV, Ford F-150 Lightning and, of course, the much-ballyhooed Tesla Cybertruck. (It remains to be seen if the Lordstown Endurance, which was supposed to be first, will ever go into production.) None of these trucks are expected to arrive before the first part of next year, which gives Rivian time to build a customer base and start converting EV skeptics.
We’re about to find out if the early bird really does gets the truck-loving worm.

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