LA Auto Show: Your First Look At Rivian's R1T Pickup Truck | WGLT

LA Auto Show: Your First Look At Rivian's R1T Pickup Truck

Nov 26, 2018

Rivian’s pickup knows how to make an entrance.

Its headlights (and really the entire front end) are signature. Instead of horizontally shaped, the oval headlights are vertical—like you’re looking down at two LED-illuminated mini stadiums. They’re connected by a horizontal bar of light stretching side to side.

The front charge indicator on Rivian's new R1T electric pickup.
Credit Rivian

"For us, we wanted a brand identity, something that was immediately and distinctly Rivian,” said Jeff Hammoud, Rivian’s vice president for vehicle design. “The face of the vehicle is really important in terms of brand recognition. That’s one of the fun and exciting challenges we had here. We don’t have history. We are a new brand. How do we create something that communicates our brand?”

It’s striking. And that white bar of light on the front turns green when charging—a progress bar for the world to see.

“It does want to feel like it's strong, confident, intelligent. It’s not like a traditional truck where you differentiate it with a big, huge grill. We don’t need that. That’s not how we’re going to make our vehicle look tough,” he added.

GLT got to see and touch Rivian’s R1T pickup Nov. 14 at the company’s engineering and design hub outside Detroit. GLT and other media outlets on the Detroit visit agreed to withhold publishing details about the vehicles until Monday.

The world will see it later Monday at the LA Auto Show and AutoMobility LA. A similar SUV model, called the R1S, debuts Tuesday. They share about 90 percent of the same parts. Both will made at Rivian’s manufacturing plant in Normal. Preorders are now open with a $1,000 required deposit.

Rivian’s been teasing the vehicles for weeks. You might’ve seen a glimpse of those headlights in a video spot Rivian released online Nov. 15.

Rivian is one of the most anticipated debuts at the LA Auto Show. Many in Bloomington-Normal are eager to see how the auto world reacts to the EV startup’s first two vehicles—how they stack up to competitors and what that means for the Twin City economy. If all of the promised jobs materialize, Rivian would become one of McLean County's Top 10 largest employers within a decade.

Inside The R1T

Even if you’re not a car geek, there’s a lot of fun little functional stuff inside the Rivian pickup. It aims to deliver on Rivian’s “electric adventure” brand of being both premium but also inviting, durable, and usable. More Patagonia than Armani, as founder and CEO RJ Scaringe puts it. 

The gear tunnel, with 350 liters of storage.
Credit Rivian

The pickup seats five adults. Right between the cab and the truck’s bed, there’s a gear tunnel—a little narrow storage space that’s the right size for a snowboard, golf clubs, or a stroller. The gear tunnel’s doors also double as a step if you need to fasten something to the roof.

A flashlight hides in the driver’s side door. You can lock up your bike in the truck’s bed and get an alert on your phone if someone tries to mess with it. And if that bike’s tires need some air, a compressed air line is right there in the bed too. 

Because it’s electric, there’s no engine in front. In its place is a frunk – yes, a front trunk, with 330 liters (or 87 gallons) of storage. 

“It’s powered up and powered down with full latching, like what you’d have on a liftgate on an SUV,” Scaringe said. 

“Anywhere we could put storage, we put it,” added Hammoud. 

In some ways, the pickup’s interior looks like any other luxury vehicle you’ve been in. There are big screens for navigation and other infotainment. 

But other aspects stand out. The colors are dark green and brown—very on brand for the outdoors theme. 

“And if you look at the wood and how wood is traditionally used in an automotive space, it’s used as a decorative material. We wanted to use it how you see it in furniture. It’s structural. It holds the screens. It’s what actually creates the vents,” Hammoud said. 

Many on the Rivian team came from other automakers, attracted to a so-called “clean sheet” project—starting from scratch, not just updating a model year. 

Jeff Hammoud is Rivian's vice president for vehicle design.
Credit Rivian

Interior design manger Zulf Ali says they looked for ways to innovate everywhere, even unconventional vents that aren’t your standard pivoting slats design. 

“The nice thing about coming to Rivian and doing something new is that you can do something you’ve always wanted to do,” Ali said. 

Scaringe, the 35-year-old MIT grad, has been working on this thing for nine years. That’s given him time to become a self-described “maniac” about even the truck’s flooring. 

"Why are we so obsessed with solving the carpet problem? Every nice car you look at has a $30 piece of carpet that’s impossible to change or costs thousands of dollars to change. You see customers buy WeatherTech floormats for $400. That’s a silly thing. 

“So we said, how do we make something where if your kid is drinking grape juice in the back and spills it, it doesn’t ruin the back carpet. So we’ve got really modular floor sets.” 

The whole thing is designed to be able to get dirty and then get cleaned up again. 

“If you ever sit in the back and it’s a black back (of the front seats), they’re kicking it and you constantly get dust on there,” Hammoud said. “The material we chose is something that even if it gets dusty and black, it absorbs some of that. It’s easily wipeable and water resistant. So making sure it still looks and feels premium, but if you need to clean it it’s very inviting to do so.”

Performance and Specs

Of course, no one’s going to pay $70,000 dollars or more for a hidden flashlight and some nice carpet. 

The digital dashboard inside Rivian's R1T pickup.
Credit Rivian

What Rivian is trying to do—create a car company from scratch—is extremely hard. But if they’re looking for an opening, now is the time. Trucks and SUVs now account for two-thirds of the U.S. market. To date most electric vehicles have been sedans, like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and the Teslas.

The all-electric pickup market is essentially untapped. Tesla’s founder Elon Musk has teased a pickup truck, but the timing is vague, years off. Ford is doing a hybrid (so still running partly on gasoline) version of its F-150 but not until 2020. General Motors’ leadership just said they don’t have any plans for electric pickups. There are a handful of other startups in the mix too.

During GLT’s recent trip to Rivian’s Michigan facility, the engineering team was just as ready to brag as the design folks.  

Rivian’s first vehicles will be premium versions of the pickup and SUV. Prices for those are not yet available, but the biggest battery pack will store 180 kilowatt-hours of juice. That’s enough for over 400 miles of range before needing to recharge. The first vehicles, made in Normal, would be delivered two years from now, in fall 2020.

“We’re eliminating any chance of range anxiety,” said Mark Vinnels, Rivian’s executive director of engineering and programs.

Sometime later, cheaper versions will be available for $61,500 (after a federal tax rebate), featuring two smaller battery packs (one with 300 miles of range, another with 230 miles). Higher-end models could cost nearly $90,000 but will go into production first.

Those batteries sit on what Rivian calls the “skateboard.” Protecting those battery cells is a big challenge. They’ve run lots of tests, making sure the skateboard doesn’t puncture if you, say, drive over a pile of rocks. Vinnels said they’re looking at several different materials to protect the batteries, including Kevlar and carbon fiber, each with impacts on cost, weight, and ultimately performance.

The skateboard is totally sealed.

“Wading through water—dispelling another myth (about electric vehicles)—is easy,” Vinnels said.

He says the pickup’s got giddy-up too. It goes zero to 60 mph in just 3 seconds, and zero to 100 in just 7 seconds, with 800 horsepower. By comparison, a typical sedan has around 130 to 15o horsepower.

Rivian’s teams says it’ll be the most aerodynamic pickup in the world, helped by that skateboard’s flat bottom and low center of gravity, and an active diffuser underneath that’s efficiently producing downforce.

The truck’s payload capacity is 800 kilograms (nearly a ton), with towing capacity of 5,000 kilograms (around 5.5 tons). And, if things go as planned, it’ll be hauling hundreds of jobs and a big jolt to the Bloomington-Normal economy too.

Rivian plans to release more details about the truck, and show off its SUV, later Monday and Tuesday at AutoMobility LA and the LA Auto Show. Follow GLT’s coverage at WGLT.org/Rivian.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the 5,000-kilogram towing capacity of the R1T. A previous version of the story incorrectly reported it as 3,500 kilograms.

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