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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on December 5th, 2018 | by Kyle Field

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Rivian Electric Truck — Deep Dive

December 5th, 2018 by  


Rivian rolled into Los Angeles in grand style with not one, but two, new fully electric vehicles that have been crafted to bring sport and utility into the world of electric vehicles.

Most importantly, Rivian has built a fully electric truck offering that serves as a full frontal challenge to Detroit’s bread and butter — the pickup truck market. The top 3 selling vehicles by volume in the US are trucks from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge, making up right around 2 million vehicles per year by themselves. Rivian has built its R1T electric truck to move into that space, to not only challenge the entrenched automotive establishment, but also to move in with a product that far exceeds the existing gasoline and diesel offerings in critical ways.

“We’re launching Rivian with two vehicles that reimagine the pickup and SUV segments,” Rivian Founder and CEO RJ Scaringe said. “I started Rivian to deliver products that the world didn’t already have – to redefine expectations through the application of technology and innovation. Starting with a clean sheet, we have spent years developing the technology to deliver the ideal vehicle for active customers. This means having great driving dynamics on any surface on- or off-road, providing cargo solutions to easily storing any type of gear whether it’s a surf board or a fishing rod and, very importantly, being capable of driving long distances on a single charge.”

The Rivian R1T Electric Truck

The Rivian R1T was built with the skateboard design that puts the battery at the bottom of the rolling chassis and allows it to adjust the body on top as needed. This affords Rivian the flexibility to change the battery size and resulting range to suit the needs of the customer. The new automaker is branding the R1T as the world’s first Electric Adventure Vehicle and it has built its skateboard to deliver on this promise.

To keep the weight of the vehicle as low as possible, Rivian integrated not just the battery pack but also the drive units, suspension, braking, and thermal management system below the height of the wheels to give the vehicle a nice stable base to romp around with. In an off-road vehicle, the center of gravity of a vehicle defines not only its riding characteristics but also the amount of traction it will have in increasingly tenuous off-road scenarios. Rivian has not offered test drives in its vehicles, but these design choices are sure to have a positive effect on the truck’s handling characteristics on and off the road.

The skateboard’s suspension utilizes the more traditional double wishbone suspension system up front and a multilink suspension system in the rear. Bumps and rattles are absorbed by a combination of adaptive dampers and an adjustable-height air suspension system that allows the suspension and ride height to be changed based on the conditions of the day.

Power

The R1T packs a quad pack of motors managed by a central torque control system to deliver 147 kW (197 hp) to each wheel, but the car’s electric powertrain really shines when it comes to torque. The R1T is an absolute performance beast when it comes to torque, with a combined 14,000 Nm of torque.

“The beauty and elegance of our quad-motor setup isn’t just about brute power. This architecture provides instantaneous torque with extremely precise control at each wheel, which is completely game-changing from a dynamics perspective both on- and off-road,” said Executive Director of Engineering and Programs Mark Vinnels.

The improved torque translates to a towing rating of 11,000 lb (5,000 kgs) for the R1T and a 0–60 mph time of 3 seconds. That’s madness for a truck — absolute madness that will make it attractive to performance enthusiasts, off-roaders, serious haulers, and soccer dads alike. These specs raise the question of price. Rivian has shared that $69,000 is the base price of the R1T ($61,500 after the US federal tax credit if it’s still around). That alone pegs the R1T as a truck that will not see much dirt, but will instead be relegated to city duty for weekend warriors, commuters, and soccer moms.

Stepping up the range to a higher trimmed battery pack will only inflate the price further, putting the longer range versions so far out of reach for the average worker that the vehicle will unfortunately compete more directly with Range Rovers and Land Cruisers than Silverados, Rams, Hilux, and F150s.

Range

Rivian is powering all of that high performance goodness with three battery pack options that set a new high bar for private electric vehicles. At launch, the R1T will be available in 135 kWh and 180 kWh configurations with a 105 kWh offering planned for availability within 6 months of the vehicle’s launch.

These packs translate to 230+, 300+, and 400+ miles of range per charge while the packs themselves translate to tens of thousands of dollars of batteries in each vehicle.

The R1T is designed for fast charging out of the gate, with power up to 160 kW, which Rivian expects will allow 200 miles of range to be added in a 30 minute DC fast charging session. An 11 kW onboard charger allows for charging at more typical rates for overnight and convenience charging.

Design

The design of the R1T is sure to be polarizing. With 8 front-end cameras that sit in the location where the headlights would normally live, the face of the vehicle instantly screams that it is not from this planet. It begs to live in the stars and would have felt right at home in Disney’s WALL-E movie, along with all of the other autonomous, electrified things.

Just below the hood, a bold streak of “stadium” headlights defines the bold nose and conjures images of similar lines on the Ford Edge, Range Rover, and Nissan Cube. The headlight bar is accentuated by two camera clusters that sit where the eye expects the headlights to be.

These dual arrays hint at the autonomous vehicle technology Rivian has planned for the R1T, with high levels of autonomous driving planned for the vehicle at launch. Time will tell how these systems play out, if development is done in house or farmed out, etc. Remember, the entire automotive industry is pivoting towards connected, autonomous, shared, and electric vehicles en masse over the next 3 years.

Stepping back from the hood reveals a truck that looks much like you would expect on the outside with a hood that’s a bit longer than you’d expect from a fully electric truck that’s not packing a gas guzzling V8. It features very clean lines that accentuate its modern look. Sweeping over to the side of the R1T reveals more crisp lines that hold up the crisp cuts framing the windshield and carry the eye back to the rear of the vehicle.

The proportions of the hood to the cab to the bed feel comfortable for the truck lovers out there while at the same time raising the question yet again: what’s under that hood that more functional space couldn’t have been allotted to the more functional bed of the truck?

Back at the rear of the vehicle, Rivian took out the highlighter and blasted some bold LED lines that streak across the rear tailgate of the truck.

Editor’s note: As excited as I am to have another electric startup on the scene and possibly producing electric pickup trucks and SUVs in a few years, I have a hard time seeing the design choices as the right ones for this segment. The vehicle looks too techy, too prissy, too odd, and too San Francisco for my stereotype of a normal pickup truck buyer. And if it’s not for normal truck buyers, who is it really for? Is there a large segment of the truck-buying EV enthusiast world that wouldn’t just wait for a Tesla pickup (which may actually come out around the same time)? Is the techy look going to excite anyone who isn’t super into Tesla? Will many Tesla enthusiasts really be fine with a Model 3, Model S, or Model X + Rivian R1T? Maybe I’m unnecessarily skeptical here, but I just don’t see this vehicle as designed winning over a large number of buyers. Let’s hope I’m wrong! —Zach Shahan

On the inside, the R1T’s split nature is revealed as rubberized floor mats stand in stark contrast with luxury leather seats and bold touchscreens. Looked at from the seats on up, the R1T has all the trimmings you could expect from a luxury vehicle, with some features that stand out as requiring further refinement before being locked in as the production build.

Sustainably sourced wood adds a soft but solid feel to the interior, with the centerpiece being the wooden structural center pillar that connects the main dash back into the armrests. The wood trim gives the interior a woodsy appeal that is sure to lure in drivers who want to feel more connected with the outdoors, even when driving.

“Although the exterior of the vehicle is what first attracts you, the interior is where you spend the most of your time, so we really focused on creating a transformational space inside our vehicles,” said VP of Vehicle Design Jeff Hammoud. “The biggest challenge was creating an interior design that delivered a premium experience, while still being comfortable as a space that is heavily used. To do this, we looked outside the automotive industry and took inspiration from contemporary furniture, as well as hiking and outdoor gear, to drive the design.”

Functional Design

As a truck, deliverable number 1 is a functional vehicle that allows owners to pack, store, haul, and move copious amounts of things from place to place. Rivian took a unique approach to storage, with a specific focus on lockable storage. This was accomplished with the combination of a 330 liter frunk (hey, it’s functional!), a unique gear tunnel that spans the width of the center of the vehicle, and a motorized cover that slides over the bed at the touch of a button.

The bed also features integrated locking cables to quickly secure any loose gear when the bed is left open. A special rear-facing “bed camera” isn’t there to peep on your nighttime adventures, but instead keeps tabs on what’s happening in the bed of the vehicle as an extra layer of security.

Connected & Autonomous

Underpinning the luxury and power of the R1T is a computing system that keeps everything playing nicely. The car talks internally across an ethernet network that enables granular over-the-air updates a la Tesla. Rivian believes this system will enable the vehicle to improve over time as software improves, though this is little more than a blue sky vision at present.

Autonomous driving tech is also foundational to the R1T, which will launch with an overwhelming suite of autonomous driving sensors including cameras, lidar, radar, ultrasonic, and the more traditional GPS plus maps combination to give developers every option under the sun to build the level 3 autonomous driving solution they plan to launch with. This will enable drivers to let the vehicle take complete control on the highway without any input to the wheel or any presumption of paying attention to what the vehicle is doing.

Overview

Rivian may be new to the automotive game, but it has already established a solid footprint with development centers in Plymouth, MI; San Jose, CA; Irvine, CA; and London, UK. These facilities work to support its 2.6 million square foot manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois, in the heart of the United States. Rivian and its 600 employees are working towards the first deliveries of the R1T in late 2020. Its SUV, the R1S, is supposed to kick off production at the start of 2021.

Preorders for both are already live on Rivian’s site, where you can dig into all the juicy specs or ooze over more electric truck porn.

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral code: http://ts.la/kyle623



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