The Secret World of Rivian Automotive
Al Castro's picture

Rivian Auto, BEV Pickup R1T and SUV R1S: So Secretive Rivian is becoming the CIA MI6 of the Automotive World!

Shhh. (Whisper). Have you ever seen a Rivian? In a way I hope not. Be careful if you have. At this stage don’t tell anyone. The electric truck startup might have to execute you for being exposed to company secrets moments away from their LA Auto Show reveal!
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ANALYSIS: Rivian Automotive, the 10 year old clandestined electric startup once based in Florida, now in Plymouth, Michigan, has been on a long journey of trying to develop something high tech mobile for production. But is it for the public or just Q Branch? Once starting with a passenger car for us now to realize where that American market is heading, Rivian honed and switched its focus to potentially making what can be a big moneymaker starting in the American BEV market: an all electric BEV pickup truck. But with no renders, no prototypes spotted, no preproduction vehicles seen, not even a reveal of a vehicle or even a fender or a grille, not one vehicle seen on their website sans blurry background drawing images (see pictures above), or even a test mule disguised in camouflage to give us a clue and for them to test but never to be seen out in the wild, sometimes you have to wonder.

What exactly does this company make? Are they even an auto company at all? Are the company’s 400 employees working for a truck company or working for a front as the Central Intelligence Agency is said to do, or something similar to “Universal Exports,” on Her Majesty’s Secret Service: the Secret Intelligence Service of MI6?

Talk about being good at keeping a secret:

  • Rivian Automotive is supposedly an electric vehicle startup.
  • For the LA Auto Show 2018 they intend to finally, and I mean FINALLY, unveil their 5 passenger battery electric pickup truck.
  • All this secretiveness is intensifying the anticipation! (With me too!)
  • They are so super secretive there is not one image in the 10 years of their existence of their prototype vehicle on the Internet. Not one. Check Google Images (those images you see there are a Ford F Series Pickup test mule they’re using, see details below).
  • They are more secretive than Apple Inc., which says a lot.
  • Clandestine is not always a bad thing. It is what it is.
  • I wonder beyond the development people at the uh, “company,” if the other employees have seen images or protos of the trucks they’ll soon build.

Here’s some of the reasons why you wonder:

  • The company was founded as Mainstream Motors. Mainstream? Oh C’mon. Were they really? That’s sounds like they just want to fit in!
  • Changed its name to Avera Automotive. Avera? Avera, avoid, avert. They need to explain that one.
  • And again they changed names to finally settle on Rivian in 2011. Sounds like a clever combo forward thinking name, like Verizon. I like it. Rivets and Ambien? Are they trying to send a secret message?
  • They moved and they’re all over the place: from Florida to Michigan with offices/facilities in San Jose and Irvine, CA. Perfect for setting up “operations.”
  • They even took over the old Mitsubishi plant in a clandestine sounding town like “Normal,” Illinois. Everything’s “normal” alright!
  • In 2011 they had plans to release a car with costs in the mid-US$20,000 range and gas mileage of up to 60 miles per gallon.
  • Then Rivian planned to release its first production car in 2013, with other models following in 2014.
  • These cars never materialized. Huh.
  • Then the company subsequently changed its mind and shifted its focus to autonomous electric vehicles.
  • Plans were to start this in the fourth quarter of 2019.
  • And again they changed their minds and plans in December 2017: Rivian announced their intentions to build both a SUV and pick-up truck on the same platform.

About the Truck(s):

  • They’re making high end “premium electric adventure vehicles” that are military grade rough terrain capable.
  • The pickup and SUV are based on the same platform.
  • We have no idea what these vehicles look like. IMAGES CLASSIFIED.
  • IMAGE DECLASSIFIED: The only images that Rivian has released about these vehicles is the platform both will be sharing (see illustration).
  • The five passenger pickup truck would launch first, followed by the seven-passenger SUV in late 2019, probably more 2020.
  • In May 2018, Rivian stated that they planned to name their upcoming truck and SUV the R1T and R1C respectively. Oh, c’mon again. A1T? What’s that? Sounds like code to me!
  • Ladder frame skate board Tesla-like center reinforced battery tray. Apparent aluminum construction. Dual motor, 4 wheel vented discs, independent front suspension. Apparent some kind of connected unilateral rear suspension.
  • The A1T will be able to sprint from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds, wade through 3.6 feet of water and climb a 45-percent incline.
  • A truck 0-60 in 2.8 secs? Sounds like it either needs to chase or get away from someone or something fast!
  • Its rough terrain performance is expected like Bollinger’s SUT, to meet or exceed military grade standards at or beyond Land Rover or Jeep.
  • Based on their vehicle descriptions we’re assuming these two trucks each will at least have 4x4 capability with some kind of locking differential in some kind of variant to negotiate those steep hills and declines the website says they will.
  • Both vehicles will be unveiled at the LA Auto Show in November, 2018. The base trim will include a range of 200 miles and the top trim will have upwards of 400-450 miles.
  • In an apparent slap in the face to Ford if used without them knowing with their F-150, Rivian is apparently using them as glider test mules to test their own home made preproduction components before launch and actual production.
  • I’ll be there at the LA Auto Show 2018 to find out to get to the bottom line of this. Unless this is all still CLASSIFIED.

Still with me folks?

So there’s plenty of inquisitiveness and curiosity with intrigue like I have, and plenty of doubt and pessimism for Rivian to give Tesla a needed break from the naysayers. And plenty of fuel for the naysayers to keep on going, to be fair, no doubt.

In Defense of Rivian:

Now before my house gets cased, my phones tapped, and me followed, to be fair to Rivian, ah, if there actually is a Rivian, I need to use my historian cap to give them the benefit and context as to how they got here, before they send out their double 0 section to find me.

The electric vehicle market was way different back in 2009-2013 than it is even now. And it was and still is, so fast developing and technology news laden and breaking that not even high tech startups like Rivian could effectively catch up with it, and then get ahead of it, to ensure their survival.

Remember we were talking about battery electric hybrids back in 2009 with Chevy Volt being the best thing like sliced bread because the battery tech was awful. We’re beyond PHEVs now to not really need them if someone held them hostage, to have full BEVs with ionized lithium and even more advanced solid state batteries with the ranges we expect from gas cars.

In just seven years from Rivian’s founding we’re almost ready for a full production Level 5 wheeless/pedaless car if GM has their way by next year (that’s not going to happen now obviously, but they submitted plans to the USDOT and they say they’re ready to go).

As Rivian was born in 2009, Tesla was already five years old and a year into putting Roadster 1 into production to start learning what works and doesn’t. By the time Rivian decided to build a passenger car by 2013, Tesla was already making one, and in a fraction had just put their SUV variant into production as well. S and X stole that thunder.

The Lesson of Tesla Applies to Rivian

If we listen to car guru Bob Lutz, he accuses Tesla of “having no secret sauce” for making their vehicles. He says, Tesla will be in trouble when their competitors catch up with them in their market. A Tesla will become just another electric car like a Mercedes, the inventor of the car, has become another luxury performance brand.

But here’s the thing: Daimler holds key patents on many industry firsts: seat belts, anti-lock brakes, Distronic adaptive cruise control, passive emergency braking, passive accident avoidance, lane departure warning, etc. The Tri-Star invests a lot in research. Tesla holds the rights to lithium ion tech for five years, that’s all. They have a great supercharger network, but IONITY is bigger and worldwide. That’s Tesla.

Now look at Rivian. They have pictures on their website of employees testing batteries. Ah, it looks hopeful. Look, I’m sure they’re working on secret sauces, but that requires a manufacturing revenue stream and time, bank financing only gets you so far.

What Rivian Needs to Do to Survive

So Rivian needs to find an angle in the auto market so that they have the best chance of succeeding until they have cash to survive to create secret sauces. Tesla has been around for almost 20 years and is still struggling with no cash and no secret sauce. Be mindful. Vehicle production is a way big step and commitment in the auto industry. Ask Tesla. Now let’s watch Faraday, Lucid, Workhorse, and Bollinger finally go at it. Let’s also watch Rivian.

Water and electricity don’t mix. With the missteps and poor regrettable judgements we’ve seen Tesla make, it’s no wonder why the Faradays, Lucids, Bollingers, Workhorse Groups, whatever the Chinese have going in startups, the legacies too, wade these electric waters more carefully now to production. Some say, whatever it is that Tesla is going through with Model 3, with $11.2 billion USD in what could be a recession making defaultable total debt, some of that is about problems they had starting with Roadster I back in 2008. That’s why Rivian took themselves 10 years to get here with no production car yet. Tesla did it in four.

Whatever the future holds for Tesla, at current status, Rivian does not intend to become the next Tesla for Worse of the electric auto industry. And I don’t think either Detroit, Wall Street, or even Washington would stand for that: two electric car companies with billions of defaultable debt and struggling.

Finding a New Unique Product

So as Rivian went along and in many good ways, Tesla stole the thunder with electrics, and Google’s Waymo and GM’s acquisition of Cruise to jump them to the head of the driverless line, these things deflated any chance Rivian could have had making either a successful passenger car or make it a driverless one at that, for survival. Like Tesla has its sights on pickups, for Rivian it seems like the best place to boldly go where no electric car company has before . . .

So I half heartedly humor this with cloak and dagger with their secrecy, which is part of the reason for all this because the electric pickup truck market is already intensely competitive, but this I’m serious in their defense: Rivian has to make this count. Rivian’s margin of error ironically thanks to Tesla, is smaller. And with Washington the way it is now, bailouts are no option, I don’t even think for Ford, at least with the present administration and Congress. And a bailout for a startup? Hmm, I don’t think so.

The Use of Another Brand’s Vehicles as Test Mules for the BEVs

Talk about competitive: If this story is true, Rivian is using what appears to be blue oval de-badged Ford F-150’s probably gutted to become gliders, so that they can apparently install their own frame, battery packs, and power plants. Not known is if this is an arrangement or collaboration for that matter with Ford, or if the vehicle pictured is either a Ford or a Rivian. Rivian didn’t return emails to comment. On the surface this seems like an ironic slap in the face of Ford, whether intended or not. If this vehicle was used as a test mule without Ford input, then it also sends a stinging rebuke to Motorcraftland that if they, like Chrysler and what some say their paltry 5 year electrification plans were that serious, Ford could have been doing full electrification work on a Ford pickup (if they actually aren’t yet) instead of some other company on their own vehicles. If this is the case, then ow that hurts!

Here’s What’s Going On With the Trucks

Rivian describes their soon coming trucks, the A1T pickup and the A1C SUV, as “premium adventure electric vehicles,” so according to one website we should expect that premium to come within the price point of $75,000 USD. That’s between a price range of $50,000 somewhere near for the lower model ranged 200 mile pickup variant, and toward the $100,000 price of a fully loaded 400 mile range five passenger pickup or especially the seven passenger SUV. Of course expect the SUV price to be slightly higher than the pickup.

Mindful that Lincoln is now selling their first vehicle based priced above $100,000 for the gas LWB Navigator, since the A1C vehicle sits niche along with Tesla Model X and the new Audi e-Tron as a Rivian SUV variant, it wouldn’t surprise me if this truck option maxed would hover just over $100K before taxes. An electric American Range Rover I’m imagining for the SUV. An electric American Land Rover Defender pickup for Riv’s pickup variant (incidentally they’ll actually be a British JLR Defender pickup as well).

Man I hope these trucks turn out to be Range Rover done electric American. If not, maybe some kind of resurrection of where Hummer left off before extinction to now be electrified thus now planet friendly. It seems Bollinger is taking care of that end of the truck market and doing it more utilitarian than Hummer ever was. Regardless, Jeep dropped the ball cancelling the Grand Wagoneer years ago with RR (Range Rover) the only serious competitor. RR never looked back since.

There’s been a serious void since then, that no American company has been able to completely fill as a response. Too late, Cadillac’s and Lincoln’s SUVs are not serious off roaders, and don’t even come close in cachet to RR anyway. And besides, they’re both permanently assigned to airport transfer duty and rentals, something Rovers aren’t, that Rivian doesn’t need to happen with theirs, and I hope they try to avoid like JLR mostly has.

RR now has a variant that competes with Bentley and Rolls. It would be nice to see if Rivian electrically chips away at Rover, like Model S does with S Class. We truly do need an electric American 4x4 SUV and pickup Queen of the Roads like Model S is the electric American Queen of the big saloons. Model X, well, hmm, she’s more the electric American Queen of the CUVs.

These are the same reasons by the way, I say Cadillac and Lincoln can return to their former glory to compete with Rolls and Bentley again. That’s if they really wanted to that they really don’t. I hope Rivian doesn’t have that attitude if that’s where they’re aiming.

I’m prepared to be amazed. Lord I hope I’m not disappointed. The trucks are scheduled for a debut unveil at the LA Auto Show in November 2018. They’re scheduled for production as early as a year or less from now, some sites say 2020, which seems more realistic. The pickup is to lead in production, with the SUV expected to come shortly thereafter.

Torque News emailed Rivian media for a comment to this story, and they did not reply.

Let’s just hope Rivian is as good at making production electric passenger and utility trucks as they are at keeping their planned ones a secret.

But until then, Shhhh. The secret still isn’t out until the LA Auto Show. I’ll be there to monitor!

Images: “Universal Exports” from James Bond wiki, picture of tail light captured with an open camera shutter, chassis platform used by both trucks, and blurred image of pickup and SUV next to apparent Rivian employee are both from Rivian website. Rivian logo ©Rivian Automotive.

What do you think of Rivian’s secret trucks? Let us know below!


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A car "NUT" for 65 year's and still going strong --- Looking forward to all the latest info in all auto news. Thank you.