Rivian gave us a loaner R1T for four days last week to drive around and enjoy. We took it from the Brooklyn delivery center through New York City, into the Adirondacks, and back through the mud, suburbs, and traffic.
For background, we’re already gushing over the R1T from our first drive of it, naming it Electrek’s vehicle of the year 2021, but now we’ve gotten some alone time with it and have seen some of the software updates that have moved into production vehicles – and we’ve got a whole new appreciation.
Rivian the company
So backing out a little bit, it is important to discuss Rivian’s place in the automotive world.
Rivian, an EV startup that has never produced a ICE vehicle, produces delivery vehicles for Amazon and two consumer vehicles, the R1S SUV and the R1T pickup. The Amazon relationship goes beyond delivery vehicles in that the online retail behemoth owns a significant share of Rivian. It also has an influence on decisions in Rivian’s product, like including its Alexa voice recognition and smart speaker technology – for better or worse – that we’ll go into much more detail later.
The flip side to giving Amazon some of the control is that they now have an almost limitless runway of cash to scale their operations. That’s important because the auto industry is scrambling for battery supply now – which is and will continue to be – the bottleneck of EV production over the next few years.
Rivian Brooklyn Service Center
While Rivian has made a few R1S SUVs, it is currently making 100x more R1T pickups, and that’s what we are looking at here. When I arrived at the showroom/service/distribution point in Brooklyn, I guessed there were 100 Rivians in the lot. I was told there were at least double that many R1Ts. There were zero R1Ses, however, but I was told that a few deliveries were happening – though those are likely for employees.
The service center itself was nice with many (15-ish?) bays for repairs to get done and a nice big comfortable room for waiting for deliveries. While it was packed to the gills with R1Ts, there were only a few employees around, and that’s the current bottleneck for delivering vehicles in Brooklyn. There are also training sessions going on in Brooklyn for new and upcoming service and delivery centers for places like Boston and Cleveland.
The location of the Rivian service center….sucked. I get it – isn’t easy to find good space in New York City for a reasonable price, but locating a premium car service/center in the center of a sketchy warehouse district was probably a bridge too far in the cost-cutting scenario. I didn’t feel any danger during daylight pickup and drop-off, but I can’t say I’d feel great about sending my wife there with a damaged vehicle at night where she’d have to walk a half-mile to jump on the L train to get home.
Also, you can see from my drive in video below, you are navigating a bunch of traffic-ridden, pot-holed streets which remind me why I never owned a car when I lived in the city. As a suggestion, putting this thing off the West Side Highway in upper midtown with the rest of the car dealerships and service centers would have made sense to me.
Wrap up in 360 (make sure to scroll around the video):
Rivian city driving
One thing I really didn’t get to try while driving in Colorado was city driving this 0-60 in three second pickup truck. As much as I hate city driving, it was probably as nice as I could expect in the Rivian –sitting up a little higher than the average SUV gave a nice view of the carnage ahead. Really good sound insulation and air filters made the ride feel quiet and not gross smelling; all-purpose mode handled the potholes, and the big tires navigated the curbs nicely. Not being a full sized truck allowed me to see cyclists and pedestrians much better than a full sized truck would have.
One-pedal driving in the city is a must and one of the greatest advantages of EVs.
Rivian off roading
The off roading in Westchester County, New York, doesn’t compare to anything we did in Colorado, so I’ll defer to my experience there. My only purpose was to get the sides dirty, which in my opinion, makes the Rivian look much better and of course gave the impression I was using this thing to its full potential to my friends and family. I also visited the neighbors through our mutual backyards which was fun.
Rivian in the suburbs
I live in the suburbs, so I did what people here do with pickup trucks. I went to Home Depot. I filled this puppy up with crap, and it handled everything beautifully.
I even went to Lowes with the family and filled it up with more crap.
For these types of heavy duty errands, the R1T is the king!
The Rivian gets stares and stalkers
We’re still early in the life of Rivian and that brings out the fans. I was surprised by all of the “thumbs ups” on the highways, people who came by to ask questions and friends who said they might be getting one of these. I took a few on rides and even some with full-sized pickups were blown away by the quiet acceleration and the features. Here’s hoping that Rivian creates an affiliate program!
Some catching up
I have almost nothing to complain about in the build quality or hardware. Admittedly I was driving a press car, but the Rivians on the lot were also really well put together with great workmanship. That said, the roll-up bed cover seemed a little janky. The mechanical charge port door opening seemed over-designed. The air suspension, raising and lowering, was uneven and creaky.
On the software side, the whole UI felt quicker, but still not as quick as an iPad. Maps were either a little in front or behind where I was on a road and directions were pretty bad compared to Google Maps.
It comes down to this
The R1T and soon R1S are amazing vehicles for a first try by Rivian. The build quality is there, the software is getting there. But most importantly, there isn’t much else on the market that compares. GM, Ford, and eventually Ram and Tesla are building huge full-sized electric trucks. Rivian’s is big but it will still fit in a parking spot or in my garage. The only other thing that’s been announced that is close (to the R1S) is the Kia EV9.
After I returned the R1T (and shot that video above), Volkswagen announced that it was resurrecting the Scout brand and building vehicles similar to Rivian. I imagine they looked at Rivian’s vehicles and the marketplace and said, “There’s no one in this space!” Like not just companies making cars, but even announced vehicles. None?
So Rivian just has to execute on its scaling plans. As some have pointed out, that’s an “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” type of achievement. Right now, every little bit of battery supply is being fought over and that is going to be Rivian’s bottleneck. Early signs are promising, however –Rivian has been meeting its milestones, although not in the timeline it has been hoping for. The chip shortage obviously isn’t helping.
But I think as long as RJ and company can keep executing, they have a virtual monopoly on the not-gargantuan adventure truck space for the foreseeable future. If they can keep innovating and executing over the next few years, I have every belief that they can become another major car company.
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