Rivian Wants to Do for Pickups What Tesla Did for Cars

Rivian’s first vehicle is the R1T, debuting on Monday, with the SUV to follow Tuesday. The R1T would make a great prop for a movie set in 2025. It’s around the size of a Ford F-150, edgy enough to look futuristic, but still recognizable enough to not be off-putting. The most striking visual elements are the wraparound LED lights, red at the back and white punctured with Tic Tac headlights at the front.

“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,” Scaringe says. He promises his vehicle will be fast, fun, and extremely capable.

Rivian is using four motors, which should allow a 0–60 mph sprint in three seconds—insane for a truck—and also give the R1T a tow rating of 11,000 pounds. The company is also experimenting with off-road abilities. Having one motor per wheel gives it the kind of traction control you want for, say, rock crawling.

As Scaringe shows me pictures of the vehicle for the first time, he says his designers used the space where an engine, exhaust, and other messy bits would go in a regular truck. There’s a powered hood, with a front trunk, a gear tunnel behind the cab designed for snowboards, golf bags, or (for a different sort of adventure) strollers. Three 110-volt outlets in the bed of the truck can run power tools or camping gadgets. Whatever you put back there is monitored by an antitheft camera.

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Like Musk, Scaringe seems happiest when diving into engineering details, grabbing a pen to draw charts on a whiteboard to show me the company’s charging strategy, to extend the battery’s longevity. We walk past rows of glass cabinets, where individual battery cells are charged and discharged over and over again, to figure out their capacities and characteristics. Although Rivian is buying the cells from a supplier, the company wants to understand them in more detail than the manufacturer can provide.

Rivian is using standard cylindrical cells, like large AA batteries, built into packs. But then it’s cleverly sandwiching two layers of packs together, with the liquid cooling that batteries need sealed in the middle. Scaringe grabs a pack to show me “the flow has been optimized to make sure the maximum temperature difference between the hottest and coldest cell of the pack is less than three degrees.” That’s important because lithium ion batteries are happiest in the same temperature zones as humans. He gets excited again as he explains the cooling loops for battery, traction system, and cabin. “It’s so cool, the battery and the thermal system are my favorite parts!”

Double-decker batteries helps Rivian promise huge 180-kWh and 135-kWh capacity packs for its vehicles. The largest pack Tesla now offers is 100-kWh. Its testing shows 450 miles of range might be possible, but it’s a long way from EPA tests with an official rating to prove that. Although Scaringe says his team has has worked hard at smoothing air flow, a truck is not an inherently aerodynamic shape, which means freeway driving will be far from efficient.

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