Can the automative upstart break America’s addiction to carbon-spewing pickups and SUVs? With Amazon on its side, it might have a chance.
Mechanics working on the shell of an electric truck
19%: Increase in the energy sector’s carbon emission caused by SUVs alone in the past decade
Rivian is seeking adventurous buyers—or those aspiring to appear adventurous, anyway—who can afford to shell out around $60,000 for an entry-level model. That’s about a third more than they’d pay for an equivalent gas- or diesel-powered pickup, although the higher sticker price is offset to some degree by federal EV tax credits, state rebate programs, and lower lifetime fuel costs. What they’ll get for their money is a truck that, depending on battery configuration, can go up to 400 miles on a single charge and accelerate from 0 to 60 in as little as three seconds flat. The R1T is rated for towing 11,000 pounds, making it easily as muscular as a no-frills F-150 or Ram. Some models can even, upon command, execute a stand-in-place, 360-degree “tank turn.” All Rivians will come equipped with semiautonomous modes and an Alexa assistant. And, like Scaringe himself, the upholstery will be vegan.
Where Tesla’s Cybertruck looks like origami on wheels, Rivian’s electric pickup, slim and limber, looks more like a Ford F-150 on a gym-and-yoga regimen.
The company still faces a climb of extraordinary technical and economic difficulty. Relaxing one afternoon at Rivian’s engineering and design center in Plymouth, Michigan, Scaringe, now 37, ticked off a list of obstacles. There is, first of all, the challenge of appealing to truck traditionalists. Some buyers, one auto analyst told me, might be unwilling to give up the ineffable feeling of “truckness” they get behind the wheel of, say, a Silverado. And even green fanatics aren’t guaranteed customers: So far, any electric vehicle that doesn’t have the Tesla badge has found it nearly impossible to gain a foothold in the American market, with sales of non-Tesla EVs actually declining last year across the board. Meanwhile, a host of new competitors—including Arrival, a startup backed by Kia and Hyundai, and Bollinger, whose vehicles resemble boxy, retro Jeeps—are nipping at Rivian’s heels.
To Rivian’s good fortune—or, possibly, its utter ruin—it has the support of a wealthy, well-connected patron. Last year, at a press conference in Washington, DC, Jeff Bezos announced what he called the Climate Pledge, committing Amazon to weaning itself off fossil fuels by 2030. To meet its goal without delaying world domination, the company will need an immense new fleet of zero-emissions delivery vans. Rivian has committed to designing and building the first 10,000 for Amazon by 2022, with another 90,000 due by 2024. There will be little room for failure, Scaringe says: “We cannot be late in delivering those vehicles.”