All Electric Full-Size Pickup On The Horizon

At a pre-Los Angeles Auto Show reveal late last year, an under-the-radar startup launched what may prove to be the first all-electric pickup to compete with conventional, personal-use full-size trucks.

Rivian, the designing and manufacturing company, says it is targeting “adventure” consumer sales, though a later derivative with less range and lower price may prove attractive to utilities.

According to the web trucking site, trucks.com, pickup sales account for 16% of auto sales in the United States. Capturing a chunk of this may prove achievable for the new brand as it claims it will have 400+ miles range and a 0 to 60 time of just three seconds. And early reports and the somewhat limited materials available at the launch indicate the bed length will be just 55 inches, way short of the 96 inches of a full-size pickup.

The truck has a number of features that set it apart from internal combustion-powered rivals. For one it is entirely battery-powered, with a “skateboard” battery pack that comprises the chassis of the vehicle and the wheel-end-motor drivetrain. This is much the same as Tesla’s car battery architecture and will likely be the basis of the much-hawked Tesla Model U pickup, due to launch 2019. But, given Tesla’s production difficulties with the Model 3 sedan, the pickup will likely not see the light of day till 2020 at the earliest.

Workhorse’s W-15 is due next year and will likely be the first to market, albeit with a range of only 80 miles and targeted at utilities and other vocational markets. The Rivian is due in late 2019 and based on it hitting the launch at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it should be on time. At least if ex-McLaren executive Mark Vinnels, Rivian’s executive director of engineering and programs, has his way.

The first reveal of the R1T – T is for Truck and the model R1S for SUV – was at a private party November 15, 2018 and both had their public debut at the Los Angeles show.

According to reports, the pickup and SUV will have around 90 percent parts sharing. In the case of the pickup, the low-floor battery and individual wheel motors rated at 147 kW each for total power of between 300 and 562 kW (400 to 750 hp) gives the Rivian R1T a low center of gravity but also opens up the opportunity for a cavernous forward under-hood trunk (or Frunk as the Tesla tweets and the Rivian spec sheet calls it) of 330 L (11.7 cu ft.). Other storage is in the bed, occupied by a spare wheel in the Rivian You Tube videos, of 200 L (7 cu ft.) and an innovative below bed, behind cab and side-to-side “gear tunnel” of 350 L (12.4 cu ft.) This gear tunnel has fold-down doors which can double as seating or a step to reach into the bed of the truck.

Another unique feature is the power tailgate which can open to the usual 90o  loading platform or drop all the way down to 180o for easy access to the bed.

The configuration of the five-seater crew-cab Rivian invites comparison with the Ford F-150 Super Crew which is targeted at the same consumer buyer. Interestingly, in its customer research Rivian found that Tesla car owners frequently have an F-150 in the same garage.

The electric truck is about 400 pounds heavier than the comparable Ford with its launch 135 kWh battery pack that gives the truck a 300-plus mile range. Future models with 180 kWh packs will be heavier though likely will offer better performance and range up to 750 hp and 400 miles between charges. A less aspirational model with a 105-kWh battery and 230-mile range will be available after the launch vehicles are in production, likely by 2022. The R1T It has a 10-inch shorter bed than the shortest Ford bed and is claimed to have a bed width of 54 inches, though there is no spec for between the wheel wells. The towing capacity is impressive at (11,000 lbs.) (5000 kg) and the torque available with the electric drivetrain is comparable with the diesel pickups at 850 – 900 lb-ft.

The spec chart lists three different kneeling, highway and off-road ground clearance figures, suggesting it will be air suspended with selective ride-heights. That is confirmed by the launch photography of the base platform for the vehicles.

The interior boasts new pickup technology, too. A 15.6 in. touchscreen display is center dashboard where it can be operated by driver and passenger. A second 12.3 in. driver screen replaces the pickup dials in the traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. A further 6.8 in. touchscreen, located at the back of the center console, provides rear seating infotainment and climate control.

In the pickup bed there are three 110-volt power outlets adding to the pickup’s practicality as a work-truck. There’s a built-in compressed air source for filling bike tires rather than powering air tools.

Rivian plans to build the two new vehicles at its plant in Normal, Ill. This was a shuttered Mitsubishi plant and Rivian acquired it for $16 million dollars in 2016, said founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. He’s a relatively young MIT graduate, and says the company has been in stealth mode since its inception in 2009 up until last year when it acquired the Normal plant.  Still, considerable investments have to be made to convert the press shop to the new models and a battery assembly area must be created. Ironically, the new company is almost breaking even now, storing 17,000 Volkswagens that cannot be sold due to the German manufacturer’s “dieselgate.”

By Steve Sturgess