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Why the Rivian R1T Isn't the EV Truck to Convert Pickup Drivers

The all-electric Rivian R1T is an exciting EV in its own right, but it's unlikely to convert traditional pickup truck drivers for everyday use.

EV startup Rivian is having a remarkable year. Since emerging from "stealth mode" (smell those Silicon Valley roots!) in late 2018, the automaker, now based in Michigan, has received substantial investment from Ford and Amazon and unveiled two exciting new models set for production next year.

Both the R1S and R1T are well-specced vehicles that attract attention whenever they turn up at auto shows. The R1S is an SUV, lining up against Tesla's Model X and high-end gas equivalents, but it is the Rivian R1T that holds the potential to bring EV technology to one of North America's most vital vehicle categories, the pickup truck market.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, as Rivian's take on truck life is only likely to attract a small fraction of the millions of U.S. buyers who purchase pickup trucks every year.

Rivian R1T: A Truck for Wanderlust, Not Work

Rivian's truck is not one that many owners will put to work, at least not in the weekday sense of the word. This thought won't come as a great surprise to anyone who has seen the R1T prototype up close or watched Rivian employees demonstrate the vehicle.

Activities like camping, cooking out, or even setting up a tent in the bed of the Rivian R1T are a common sight. Hauling work tools, construction materials, or crews never enters the conversation.

It's easy to see why. Rivian is building its brand on "electric adventure." The R1T is a pickup truck for weekend offroading and vacation trips that head into the wilderness.

If Rivian's marketing materials and auto show demonstrations aren't enough to make the case, the design choices underpinning the R1T should be.

While the truck's mooted 400-mile range, 180kWh battery pack, and an impressive towing capacity of 11,000 pounds are appealing, the limited bed space and potentially awkward access to more practical items like the spare tire point to a focus on fun, not hard graft.

On the subject of battery size, here's John Goreham on Peak Battery - The Real Reason Affordable Electric Vehicles Are Failing in America.

Although Rivian has made no claims to serve the heavy-duty work crowd with the R1T, it feels inevitable that the first electric pickup truck will be compared to every vehicle in the class.

Given the recent hype around Rivian, it feels important to temper expectations before such criticism begins.

All-Electric Trucks Will Have to Haul

The best selling pickup truck in the United States is the Ford F-150. Indeed, Ford's F-series combined sold 55% more trucks in 2018 than their nearest rivals, the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram.

The common theme among these three trucks is that they can all be put to work. They have ample space in the bed for tools and equipment, with the focus on practicality, durability, and getting the job done.

For an example of what Ford has in the pipeline for its future trucks, check out this2021 F-150 Pickup Spotted in the Wild Hiding Big Changes.

For contractors, utility comes a long way ahead of luxury. Sure, some buyers will spend a lot more to add creature comforts to their cab. Some fully-loaded pickup trucks sell for upwards of $60,000, which starts to put them in Rivian's price range, but the majority of purchases happen at more moderate sales prices.

Fleet managers are another critical part of the market for electric pickup truck manufacturers to win over. The potentially enormous fuel savings will undoubtedly prompt some firms to consider electric pickup trucks for their fleet, but if they can't haul the same load as an F-150, they simply won't make the grade.

Finally, there's the Rivian R1T's aesthetic.

Although this is a more subjective consideration, the majority of pickup truck branding focuses on strength and ruggedness. Think "Built Ford Tough" or "Guts. Glory. Ram." These are hard vehicles for hard labor. Even with its impressive specs, the Rivian R1T cannot be described in those terms. Again, this is a truck that focuses on adventure and the excitement of exploration, rather than the heavy-duty aspect of mainstream pickup trucks.

Electric vehicles already face an uphill battle to attract some segments of drivers from their established combustion engine equivalents. The pickup truck category could be the hardest to convince of all, and it won't be a high-end weekend vehicle that does the job.

We'll be examining possible contenders for the electric pickup truck crown in more details this week, including Rivian's partnership with Ford to bring new electric vehicles to market.

Watch This Funny Video Showing Tesla May Need a Tractor Not a Pickup Truck and Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for Daily Reports on Automotive Industry.

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See you in the next story, where I am discussing how BMW accelerates it's EV plans charged up by Toyota Prius Prime and BMW i3 success.

Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and his YouTube Channel


Dilan (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 6:58PM

I would never buy an electric truck. I drive the Ecoboost f150 at work and I don’t even like the fact that it shuts down at a stop. I’ll take a v8 and pay my gas before I ever switch to something not proven and electric.

Steve Birkett    June 16, 2019 - 12:20PM

In reply to by Dilan (not verified)

I think that will be the sentiment among many existing pickup drivers for some time. Can I ask, though, do you have any confidence that proven truck makers like Ford or GM could make a compelling heavy duty truck that could handle your everyday use?

Thomas (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 6:59PM

Can Rivian R1T or other electric pickup truck start up and run all day with heat on high hauling a trailer when its 32 deg and snowing to minus 20 with severe windchills? Probably not. Then it's useless for me.

Steve Birkett    June 16, 2019 - 12:22PM

In reply to by Thomas (not verified)

We can't really know until they (and other manufacturers) get vehicles out into the world to test. Do you have any confidence in GM or Ford to deliver something for the scenario you describe? I have a feeling their experience will count for a lot.

Justin (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 6:59PM

Rivan R1t is a pretty sweet truck all things considered. 10k lb towing, 800hp, 0-60 in 3 seconds, and made in the USA.

Pasha (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 7:00PM

Think about it: 80k EV truck vs $40k Tundra. Toyota Tundra will burn $45k+ in fuel in 200k miles, but the inconveniences that come with EV charging are what will keep me out of one. Plus, Tundra's next model will have improved MPG so the gap will grow between the two and EV will not make sense unless they come down in purchase price to around $55k.

Steve Birkett    June 16, 2019 - 12:04PM

In reply to by Pasha (not verified)

Exactly, and Rivian simply isn't in a position to achieve that price point yet. They're starting as Tesla did, selling a luxury product to a niche set of buyers who are happy to pay the premium for an electric vehicle. Even the initial release run of ~20,000 vehicles reflects this. With Ford and GM investing in electric versions of their already popular trucks, it feels like one of the established manufacturers could actually get there before the EV-only automakers.

Tristan (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 7:12PM

I am not sure about the Rivan EV truck. The diesel-electric hybrid would be the ideal emissions-compliant truck, you could put a centralized electric motor in place of the transfer case, the transmission would be the generator and the truck would still be able to carry another 1,000 lbs of just battery. It would be a hotshotters dream never to have to worry about the transmission, never have to idle, always ready to go and always getting the peak mpg.

Jorge (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 8:41PM

1st: The Rivian truck has good looks.
2nd. Charge from empty to full in 10min or less cus that's how long it takes me to fill up my gas tank.

Steve Birkett    June 16, 2019 - 12:14PM

In reply to by Ryan (not verified)

These are all pre-release numbers of course, but the R1T does stand up on the spec side:

Tow rating: 11,000 lbs
Range: 400 miles
Charge speed: 160kW fast charging, which would equate to ~200 miles in 30 minutes on the largest battery pack.
AWD w/ dedicated electric motor at each wheel
HP: 754
0-60mph: 3.0 seconds

That said, all of the numbers are really fluff until it's put to the real-world tests that other commenters describe. What if it's 20 below and the heat is cranked up? What if the bed is heavily loaded and the cab is full? How long does that maximum charge speed hold and will there be equipment capable of hitting it in the places people want to go?

Definitely still very early days for electric pickups, although I think there's a lot of promise given the potential performance levels and efficiency.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 9:00PM

I am not sure if there is any real surprise that the Rivan isn't going to take over the pickup/SUV market. It always was going to be niche vehicle, appealing to a small group of buyers. I have never owned a pickup, so I cannot speak to the needs of truck buyers. But although I certainly see many pickups being driven daily as work trucks, and some carrying big loads, most of them that I see on the road are just stuck in the daily commute, carrying one driver, no passengers, and nothing in the pickup bed. The EV promise of having tons of power, low maintenance, low operating cost, with the ability to haul stuff when needed, has got to be enough to attract say 5% of the pickup/SUV buyers. They do not have to be a perfect fit for everyone, because the truck and SUV market is HUGE. I agree that plug in hybrid trucks could appeal to a much larger market, because they could provide much of the EV advantages, but for less money. And I see the bigger automakers moving to hybrid trucks first. I just hope that they skip over passive hybrid designs that offer little practical benefit, and go straight to regular hybrids and PHEVs. If Tesla has shown anything with the great sales success of their Model 3, it is that once you actually build and sell BEVs, and buyers get behind the wheel and drive them around a bit, people want them.

Steve Birkett    June 16, 2019 - 3:04PM

In reply to by DeanMcManis (not verified)

They will definitely occupy a tight niche early on. Even Rivian is projecting a maximum of 20,000 sales in its first twelve months, which is across both its models. Even if that means 10,000 for the trucks, it's a drop in the ocean of the overall market. Still, they have to start somewhere and selling the most high-end offering first is how Tesla built a desirable brand, so it's easy to see Rivian following that playbook. There's just that extra bit of pressure with the R1T probably being the first electric pickup to market. Even though it should be obvious that it's a high-end option for a specific set of buyers, I can see some in the auto world dismissing electric trucks outright because it's not a work vehicle. If will definitely be interesting to see which manufacturer makes a pickup with the potential to upend those criticisms.

Shane (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 9:54PM

Electric cars produce more carbon emissions already compared to anything diesel powered in the same size. How is Rivian going to address this?

Ryan (not verified)    June 15, 2019 - 10:51PM

In my opinion, the Atlis XT is better than the Rivan R1t EV truck, but not sure it will ever be more than a rendering.

JJJ (not verified)    June 17, 2019 - 1:50PM

I have EV and owned F150 before. EV right now is awesome option for daily driver going home to work and whatever you need during weekdays. And... in the weekends EV sucks. Fast charge, supercharger, and etc whatever just don't work. If you drive EV in winter highway with heater on then your range drops about 50%. I can't even imagine towing something in winter highway with heater on!! Its just really bad in range and charge time. I often drove from Michigan to Alabama to visit my in-laws and thats 800 mi / 10 hr drive. Now taking that trip with EV truck? Nope I don't wanna stop every 200mi to charge my car. I still do love my EV for all the benefits it comes with, but this EV love is only possible because my wife has Gas car for our weekend long distance driving.

Rick Heavey (not verified)    June 27, 2019 - 1:11AM

One thing that nobody seems to be commenting on is the unibody of the Rivan pickup truck. It’s my understanding that the bed is separated from the cab for a reason. As the Center of Gravity (CG) of the load changes due to the orientation of the bed relative to the terrain, the passengers in the cab are unaffected. With the unibody pickup, the passengers will definitely feel every curve or bump in the road. This is probably why Chevy’s El Camino and Ford’s Ranchero never made it as viable alternatives in the pickup market. If Tesla or Rivan want to entice the working pickup drivers into the EV market, they will need to decouple the cab from the bed.

LKH (not verified)    June 27, 2020 - 11:14PM

I feel that the SUV market would be very open to the R1S .We have two toyotas 4 runners and pull a small 3000 pound trailer and stay in the city. We want to be responsible and stop carbon contribution. And it will go anywhere So we are going to give it a try for those two reasons. However I would like to understand how the batteries are handled in the sense of birth to death. What chemicals are created that are harmful and how are they kept from entering into the environment. WHen they are made, installed, in an accident, when they die and how they are processed at each stage.