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Australia’s love of big trucks and SUVs, and the world’s ongoing push into the electric-vehicle space, are set to collide in the most wonderful of ways, with confirmation Rivian will launch both the R1T and R1S locally.
And we’re not the only ones who are excited; the company has so far raised in the vicinity of US$1.5b in investment, including some US$700m in a round led by Amazon, and more recently, a US$500m investment from soon-to-be-rival Ford.
So obviously the brand is making plenty of the right noises. But it does raise an obvious question; just what the hell is a Rivian? And why should you care?
We’re glad you asked…
What is the Rivian R1T?
Picture a heavy-duty truck roughly the size of a block of flats, and with all the off-road performance you could ever need.
And what’s more, picture one that’s insanely practical; Rivian has patented five customisable designs for its dual-cab pick-up’s tray, each of which is designed to suit a specific user. There’s a removable recreation module which allows you to secure dirt bikes on the back, for example, and a removable delivery module with a canopy, a removable open box, a flat bed, and a smaller side rail setup.
Now picture that same truck delivering Porsche-baiting performance and a claimed EV range of close to 650 kilometres. Can you see why we're just a little bit excited?
On paper, the R1T’s specs are incredible. Powered by a quad-motor system that delivers 147kW to each wheel, and a staggering 14,000Nm in total torque, Rivian says its (from) US$69,000 truck can clip 160km/h in just 7.0 seconds, and will chase down 100km/h in just over 3.0 seconds. That’s staggeringly fast for a vehicle of this immense size and capability.
But trucks aren’t about performance - if they’re about performance at all - and so the R1T isn’t without its off-road talents, too.
"We have really focused on the off-road capability of these vehicles. We have 14-inches of dynamic ground clearance, we have a structural underbody, we have all-time all-wheel drive so we can go up 45-degree inlines, and we can accelerate from zero to 60mph (96km/h) in 3.0 seconds," Rivian’s chief engineer, Brian Gase, told CarsGuide at the 2019 New York Motor Show.
”I can tow 10,000 pounds (4.5 tonnes). I’ve got a tent that I can throw onto the back of the truck, I’ve got 400 miles (643km) of range, I’ve got all-time all-wheel drive so I can do anything another vehicle can do, and then some.”
As all of the important bits are confined to the “skateboard” (but more on that in a minute), it frees up the rest of the vehicle's design for clever solutions, like under-the-bonnet storage, as well as a tunnel that disects the vehicle horizontally, straight through where the tunnel would run in a conventional ute, that can be used to store things like golf clubs or surfboards, and can also be used as a step to reach into the tray. Towing capacity is claimed at around five tonne, and the payload capacity is about 800 kilograms.
"This puts lockable storage in this space, which doesn't exist, it puts dynamic suspension in, so on road its going to feel extremely capable and a lot smaller than it is, but then you also have that off-road side fo the vehicle - that duality doesn’t exist at the moment,” Gase says.
And that’s really what the Rivian R1T pitch boils down to; anything you can do, we can better. And then some.
“We’re going to take the traditional tradeoffs that exist in the segment—poor fuel economy, not fun to drive, not good on the highway - and make them strengths,” company founder - and MIT engineering graduate - RJ Scaringe told Wired.
What is the Rivian R1S?
It might share the same underbody architecture and electric motors, but the Rivian R1S SUV targets a very different customer. A massive three-row electric SUV (yep, it’s a seven-seater), the R1S is the hulking Escalade of the EV world. And in our humble opinion, this SUV looks an absolute treat.
In its own words, the brand has “commonised everything on the vehicles forward of the B-pillar”, so what you’re essentially looking at is the R1T with a newly styled rear-end, and at least part of its visual success comes from the fact that - outside the futuristic wrap-around headlights, of course - it looks pretty much SUV-like.
In the cabin, though, is a slightly different story, with a layered dash that’s utterly dominated by gigantic screens (one in the centre, and another for the driver), and a lovely mix of quality-feeling materials that lend the interior a pared-back but futuristic feel.
Executives told CarsGuide they were shooting for a rugged-yet-luxurious feel, creating vehicles that feel premium at every tough point, but that also aren’t afraid to get down and dirty when they need to.
Hence both vehicles can wade through nearly a metre of water, and both are fitted with heavy-duty skid plates to prevent off-road damage. And yet the R1S is also undeniably plush-feeling in the cabin.
“I want you to feel like you’re in the most comfortable room in your house when you're driving this car, but I also want you to feel like if you didn't wipe your feet when you got in, you don’t care because it’s easy to clean,” Gase says.
“Everything that we produce as a company is something that we consider aspirational. I want someone who is 10-years-old to have this poster on their wall in the same way I had the poster of a Lamborghini when I was a kid.”
What is the Rivian skateboard?
It might sound a little obvious, but the Rivian platform is referred to as a skateboard, because once you take all the bits of actual car off it, that’s just what it looks like; a wide, flat skateboard with a wheel at each corner.
The idea here is that Rivian crams all the important things (the motors, the batteries etc) into the skateboard, ensuring the platform is both scaleable and transferable to other products (hence Ford’s sudden interest).
The batteries are actually stacked on top of each other, with Rivian promising capacities of 135kWh and 180kWh, and in-between the battery stack is a liquid cooling pack (or “chill plate”) that ensues the batteries remain at at their optimum temperatures. In fact, Rivian says that the difference between the hottest battery and coolest battery at any given time is just three degrees.
Like most manufacturers, Rivian essentially buys in the battery tech, but the sheer size of the packs promised some staggering range estimates - some 660km for the 180kWh setup.
The skateboard also houses the electric motors, one at each wheel, and all the other “thinking” parts of the vehicle, like the traction systems and battery management functions.
When will we get the Rivian R1T and R1S in Australia?
We quizzed Rivian on exactly this topic at the 2019 New York Motor Show, and while Gase wouldn't be drawn on specific timings, he confirmed the brand was planning an Australian launch around 18 months after its American launch towards the end of 2020.
"Yes we will have an Australian launch. And I can’t wait to come back to Australia and show this to all of those beautiful people," he says.
But Rivian won’t be entering the budget end of the segment, with Gase telling CarsGuide that producing EV workhorses simply isn't on the agenda.
"While workhorses are extremely practical and they do a lot of great things, I want to get this into an affordable landscape where you look at it and think ‘with what I save on repairs, with what I save on fuel, and what I actually want out of a vehicle, this ticks all the boxes’.
"I think people would come to this out of a 911, you'll have people come to this out of an F150, and you’ll have people come to this out of a sedan. Because there are so many compromises that these products have.”