The Tesla of trucks? Meet Rivian, the company building super fast, stylish EVs

5w ago


Nick is a freelance automotive journalist based in New York, and has written for the likes of the New York Times, Road & Track, Car & Driver and the New York Daily News.


Say hello to Rivian, possibly one of the most unlikely heroes of the electric car revolution.

Combining America's love of all things trucks with electric motors, a choice of three battery packs, and all-wheel drive hardware, the Rivian R1S sport-utility and R1T pickup truck are set to go on sale late in 2020.

Until less than a year ago, however, almost no one had heard to the secretive American automaker, which has its roots deep in the Midwest. The company's headquarters are in Michigan, and Rivian's production plant in Normal, Illinois, formerly built Mitsubishi vehicles for sale here in the States.

The Rivian R1T has anywhere from 400 horsepower in the base model, to more than 700 hp when fitted with the largest of three available battery packs. Photo: Rivian

One of the things you notice straightaway is that the R1S and R1T don't look radically different from a normal gas-powered vehicle. Take away the glowing front light-bar - go ahead, put your finger or hand over a pic of either model, we'll wait while you do it - and you'll see the shape is, well, actually something of a throwback. Rivian wanted it that way, the design is meant to look rugged and, in a nod to the Sega Genesis and grunge-music era, they're meant to bring to mind sport-utilities dating to the early to mid-1990s.

Personally, I like it – and think Sonic the Hedehog would approve, too.

Speaking of fast-paced beasts, these two electric trucks have the speed and power of an all-out sports car. Punch the accelerator in the range-topping model fitted with a 180 kWh battery pack, and Rivian estimates the run from zero to 60 mph takes only 3.0 seconds flat. That's almost on par with a Porsche 911 Turbo, never mind a normal work-day truck like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado. In its most powerful format, Rivian says the R1S and R1T deliver the equivalent of roughly 750 horsepower to all four wheels.

The base R1S, pictured here, has more 230 miles of range and can tow 7,700 pounds. Photo: Rivian

Even the entry-level models aren't exactly what you'd call slow. The base trim still hustles from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 4.9 seconds. Total power and range depends on which of the three lithium-ion battery packs you choose. These are located in a clever "skateboard" chassis, which positions the weight low and in the center of the trucks.

Electric motors at each wheel deliver all-wheel drive grip, while an air suspension can raise or lower the trucks, depending on the driving conditions and which drive mode is selected. Range per charge varies from 230 miles in the base model, to 310 in mid-level trim, and upward of 400 miles with the largest battery.

The cabin of the R1S and R1T is filled with large touch screens and premium trim. This is a truly classy cabin! Photo: Rivian

These two trucks are about more than impressive numbers. Step into the cabin of either model, and you'll see an interior that is absolutely cutting-edge without going overboard on superfluous details. A massive 15.6-inch touch screen dominates the center of the dash, there isn't a traditional button to be found.

The wood on the dash is real and, get this, the design inspiration for its overall form came from mid-century modern furniture. That would sound really hokey, if the end result didn't look so utterly suave and sophisticated. There is room for five in the R1T pickup truck, and space for seven on the three rows of seating provided by the R1S SUV.

A front-mounted trunk adds more cargo flexibility, and it's just really cool to show off. Photo: Rivian

Possibly the coolest features in the Rivian R1S and R1T are the truck's clever use of space. When you don't have a big greasy engine to worry about, wonderful things happen in terms of finding extra storage where you least expect it. In the R1S, you can carry a full complement of people and toss all their assorted bags either behind the third row, or in the front-mounted trunk. There is about 11 cubic feet of room up there.

The R1T goes one step further, with what Rivian refers to simply as the "Gear Tunnel." Stretching the width of the truck, this secret cargo area is located between the cabin and the cargo bed. Accessed on either side by two metal flaps incorporated into the body of the truck, this is a perfect spot to toss bulky items or dirty adventure gear. Better still, those access flaps double as seats or steps, each one can carry up to 300 pounds. Want something even wilder for your truck? Rivian has devised a portable sink and grill that neatly slides out from the Gear Tunnel. Yes, it'll be available when production starts. And yes, I absolutely want to give this a culinary test drive.

The Gear Tunnel provides a hidden storage compartment for all your adventure gear. Photo: Rivian

For the time being, Rivian will only say that the R1S and R1T will each start around $70,000 when they officially arrive in late-2020. Adding the more potent batteries will see the price jump skyward, most likely well-above $100,000 for a fully-loaded model with the big-daddy battery pack. New models are also in the works and, if Tesla's global ambitions can serve as a guide, sales in Europe and Asia are highly likely in the near future.