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Tesla is the biggest name in American electric vehicles, but new rival Rivian is hoping to change that.
Rivian is set to launch its first models, the R1T full-size pick-up and related R1S SUV, later this year in the US and begin rolling out to the rest of the world, including Australia, in the near future.
Rivian was originally meant to be shipping out its first vehicles to customers in July, but in addition to the challenges of starting a new company, like all car makers, Rivian has been slowed by the global pandemic and the resulting semiconductor shortage. The company has now set a new target of September for the first customer cars.
Rivian engineer Brain Gase told CarsGuide back at the 2019 New York Motor Show that the arrival of the brand in Australia is a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ given how suitable both models will be here.
“The ‘when’ is a tough question,” he explained. “How do you pick the right strategic markets on what’s core to your brand, where you’re going to see sales?
“And that’s why Australia is so exciting to us because you guys share a lot of the off-road and nature values that I think we have as a company. And you’re not on Italian narrow roads, where this vehicle is a harder footprint to fit in.
“The truck makes sense in the Australian market. We see significant value, particularly with the SUV in right-hand-drive markets.
“And we’ve commonised everything on the vehicles forward of the B-pillar, so by default, getting a right-hand-drive truck is a low barrier, because I’ve got a right-hand-drive SUV.”
A spokesperson for Rivian told CarsGuide this week that plans to produce cars in right-hand drive for Australia remain in place, but timing still hasn’t been confirmed.
While any setback is disappointing, and one for a new brand typically raises questions about its viability, Rivian appears to be in a good position to follow through on its commitment, here’s why.
Since its official debut at the 2018 Los Angeles motor show, Rivian has become a big player in the US auto industry despite not having delivered a car. It has reportedly raised more than US$10.5 billion in capital since it began, with the biggest investors being Amazon and Ford.
Just this month Rivian raised US2.5b in funding to help expand its manufacturing operations (it already owns a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois) and its international expansion.
Amazon has begun testing the van already in selected cities and is aiming to have 10,000 on the road by 2022 before eventually buying 100,000 in total to completely transition its fleet to EVs.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Rivian, though. In April 2020, Ford - which invested US$500 million into Rivian - announced its plans to build a luxury Lincoln SUV using the Rivian platform would be axed.
Ford maintained it was still committed to its partnership with Rivian and blamed the pandemic for the decision to cancel the Lincoln program.
Like many successful brands, Rivian has opted to target the top end of the market with both the R1T and R1S. With the R1T priced from US$67,500 and the R1S from US$70,000, Rivian has positioned itself well above the US$39,900 Ford F-150 Lightning and instead against the likes of the yet-to-be-priced Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series.
That’s not to suggest the Rivian’s are overpriced, because based on the initial models we’ve seen, each are suitably equipped to justify the luxury price tag. Both, for example, will be capable of running up to 480km between charging.
The R1T may be a ute, but it won’t be targeting buyers looking for a functional workhorse, with leather and wood interior trim and standard 20-inch alloy wheels (with the option to go bigger).
The design and accessories offered for the Rivians make it clear the vehicles are being pitched at adventurous types. For example, the R1T comes with a ‘gear tunnel’, a unique storage spot that’s the width of the vehicle and fits between the cabin and the tray. Rivian has already unveiled a ‘gear shuttle’, a long bench that can slide in and out of the tunnel.
If that’s not what you’re after, you can option the ‘Camp Kitchen’ for the tunnel. This US$5000 option adds a two-burner induction cooktop, a sink and drawers filled with tableware and cooking equipment, including pots and a kettle.
You can also option a three-person tent from Yakima on both the ute and SUV. This decision to position itself as a brand for those who like outdoor adventures could hold Rivian in good stead when it does reach Australia.
Rivian’s proprietary EV technology may have garnered plenty of financial interest from Amazon, Ford and others, but it needs to work in the real world if the company is to be successful. That’s especially true in Australia’s uniquely challenging conditions.
Rivian has already put the R1T to the test in an extreme way - more so than typical industry testing - by volunteering its very first finished pre-production cars for use in the 2020 Apple+ TV series Long Way Up.
A pair of the R1T were chosen as support vehicles for the show which saw actor Ewan McGregor (of Star Wars fame) and friend Charley Boorman ride a pair of Harley Davidson Livewire electric motorcycles from Ushuaia, Argentina through South and Central America to Los Angeles. The Rivians had to cover approximately 20,000km across a variety of terrains and managed to make the journey without any major failures.
More recently, an example of the R1T and R1S were spotted in New Zealand, likely carrying out cold-weather testing at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds just outside of Queenstown.