An income stream from innovative accessories is already in place (R1T with slide-out electric camp kitchen and step-up tent pictured)

An income stream from innovative accessories is already in place (R1T with slide-out electric camp kitchen and step-up tent pictured)

Not even at the frothiest heights of the dot com bubble two decades ago would speculators have taken the plans of any start-up car company seriously. Now, even though the suds are bursting all over China, in the USA, extraordinary amounts of money continue to be poured into certain would-be electric vehicle makers. Leading the charge, so to speak, is Rivian Automotive, a company which appears to have the products and backers to make it big. Possibly.

Rivian calls itself an 'automotive technology company'. Once known as Avera, the small but rapidly expanding firm intends to build vehicles at the former Mitsubishi Motors plant in Illinois. The firm paid a mere US$1m to the liquidators retained by MMC to secure the site, which had been due for razing. Rivian says it intends to eventually employ 1,000 people at the Normal factory.

Robert ('RJ') Scaringe, the entrepreneur and CEO who has captured the imaginations and cash of quite a few big investors, is driving Rivian ever closer to the day when this start-up begins series production of its first vehicle.

Those injecting funds so far include Abdul Latif Jameel and Sumitomo of America, and to the tune of half a billion US dollars. Abdul Latif Jameel is one of Saudi Arabia's largest privately owned companies. Among other businesses, it holds the concession for Toyota in the kingdom.

Rivian has been superb at attracting further funding and even though speculation that GM would be taking a stake came to nothing, in April, Ford Motor Company announced that it would be stumping up US$500m for a holding and the commissioning of an electric model (see below). This came two months after Amazon had led a US$700m round of fresh finance, along with Abdul Latif Jameel. And still the money comes flooding in.

Only last month, yet another cash injection was announced, this time US$150m from Cox Automotive. This firm, which owns Manheim, AutoTrader, Kelley Blue Book and DealerTrack, had not previously bought into any OEM, nor had Cox Enterprises, its parent company. In a joint statement, Cox and Rivian said they would be looking at "partnership opportunities in service operations, logistics and digital retailing."

What are all these speculators getting so excited about? The answer is two - with more to come - XL-sized electric light trucks the likes of which no other firm (yet) offers. If Rivian gets these right, and what we have so far seen in the prototypes impresses, who's to say the company's vehicles won't sell in more than enough volume to eventually deliver good returns?

R1T: the pick-up Truck

The US new vehicle market hasn't seen anything like this vehicle, not even from Tesla, although Elon Musk says he will be revealing his own take on an electric pick-up in November. Rivian claims that the R1T, which was a world debut at the LA auto show eleven months ago, will accelerate to 60mph in under three seconds. Far more importantly, the maximum range for the most expensive variant is said to be almost 400 miles. 

There will be three battery pack choices: 135kWh (300 miles) or 180kWh (400 miles) 'Megapack' at launch, followed a year later by a cheaper 105kWh (230 miles) alternative. All trucks will be four-wheel drive thanks to a 147kW motor for each wheel. Power and torque outputs for the 105kWh variant are 300kW and 560Nm. Equivalents for the 135kWh and 180kWh variants are 522kW and 562kW while each produces 1,120Nm.

The 5,475mm long and 2,015mm wide R1T has four doors, air suspension, a high level of ground clearance and a 'gear tunnel'. The load bay lifts to reveal a spare tyre, and there is a 330-litre space below the pick-up bed where a set of golf clubs can be stored sideways behind a door on each side of the vehicle. With the tailgate in place, the bed length is 55.1-inches. There is also a 330-litre stowage compartment where the engine would be in a conventional truck. As for towing capacity, this is a very impressive 11,000 pounds.

Tom Gale, an influential designer at the former Chrysler Corporation, is a director of Rivian Automotive although the company has not said anything official about him having had input into its prototypes.

The first customer deliveries of the R1T in the US market are promised for "2020". The sales model will be one of direct contact with customers and there will also be a subscription model whereby access to more than one vehicle can be part of the agreement. Pricing is to start at US$69,000.

The company also says its vehicles' platform, the skateboard, might also be used by other OEMs for their own EVs. This is the thin base of the vehicle and includes the braking, suspension, and cooling systems, with the battery in the middle.

R1S: the SUV

It wasn't just the R1T which Rivian pulled the covers off at last year's LA auto show; an SUV, which is around half a metre shorter but still quite long (5,040mm) and wide (2,040) was also a global premiere. The vehicles share a platform and many other components. Unlike the Range Rover which has roughly the same dimensions, the R1S has seven seats. Plus a boot in the front as well as one in the back. The wheelbase is a very lengthy 3,450mm.

Production is due to commence "in 2020", with only the variants powered by 180kWh and 135kWh packs available at launch. The base 105kWh variant will follow "within 12 months of the start of production", according to a media release which accompanied the prototype's debut at the 2018 LA auto show.

Power and torque outputs for the 105kWh variant are 300kW and 560Nm. Equivalents for the 135kWh and 180kWh variants are 522kW and 562kW while each produces 1,120Nm.

RJ Scaringe told the media at a conference in January that his firm has provisional plans for as many as four other vehicles, each one an SUV or pick-up.

EVs for other companies

Rivian has disclosed certain details of two (unrelated) vehicles it is working on in partnership with a couple of its investors. The project with Ford Motor Company was made public in April but the specifics, such as what body style, where it will be made and so on, are not yet known. As well as injecting US$500m into Rivian, Ford will manufacture the model in question using the start-up's skateboard architecture. No brand was mentioned either, so it could be a Ford or a Lincoln. As for a launch date, 2022 has been suggested for the US market, but not confirmed.

The most recent news was an announcement in September concerning an electric delivery van project for Amazon. The online giant has placed an order with Rivian for 100,000 electric vans, the first 10,000 of which are due on US roads by 2022 and the last by 2030.

Reports for many other manufacturers' future models are grouped in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

More detail on past, current and forthcoming models can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database which is part of QUBE.

The next OEM to have its future models strategy examined will be Tata Motors. That includes features on Tata, Jaguar and Land Rover.

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