Rivian’s Tank Turn Is More Than A Silly Stunt

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We awoke Christmas morning to a cool surprise from Rivian: its trucks and SUVs are going to be capable of tank turns! The short video was widely shared, but few people seemed to understand that it’s actually a useful feature.

Most of us are used to driving cars and car-like vehicles with the same basic controls. One pedal makes the car accelerate, and the other makes it decelerate. A third pedal (if so equipped) manages gear ratios. Finally, a steering wheel makes the vehicle’s wheels pivot to go right or left.

Doing something like a “tank turn” seems like it’s a cool trick, but many of us can’t envision a situation where you’d need to do this. It’s so far outside of what we normally do with our cars and trucks that it just seems absurd.

Unlike our cars, tanks don’t have wheels at all, and there are other wheeled vehicles that can’t pivot their wheels for various reasons. To be able to turn, they have to give more power to one side or the other, or even turn wheels/tracks on one side in a completely opposite direction from the other in some situations.

This kind of setup, called “differential steering” is usually controlled with two sticks or levers, one for each side, that can move independently. By pushing the sticks differently from each other, you get control over the direction you’re going. To to a “tank turn,” push one stick forward and pull the other back.

I’d love to tell you all about my extensive experience operating tanks in warzones, but I don’t have any such experience. Instead, I’ll have to talk about construction equipment, which I do have some experience with.

One of the biggest advantages of doing “tank turns” is that you can work in very tight spaces that a normally-steered vehicle either can’t work in at all, or would have great difficulty. The Bobcats in the back yard above use that maneuverability to do a whole lot of work in a space not much bigger than the vehicles themselves.

If the Bobcats in the video above had to do a 3-point turn in that yard, you’d spend a whole lot more time maneuvering than you’d spend actually moving dirt. Or, you’d be stuck doing it all with wheelbarrows. No thanks!

But some of you are probably asking, “How is this feature useful on a truck?”

The answer is basically the same as it is for the Bobcats. Imagine you’re on a rough dirt road out in the forest or desert. You get to the top of a rise and see that some recent rains washed the road out ahead, and it’s not safe to pass. You’ve got to turn around, and the road isn’t much wider than your truck is long. Sure, you could pull off a 64-point turn, and after several minutes be back on your way, but that’s a pain in the ass. In some conditions, it’s a good way to get stuck. In the Rivian, you’d be able to turn right around and be on your merry way.

Our readers aren’t dummies, so I’m sure you can think of your own personal example of a time when a tank turn would have really come in handy. The fact is, maneuvering in tight quarters is a whole lot easier with such a capability.

Yes, this wouldn’t work terribly well on pavement. It would smoke the tires, and possibly even damage the road or parking lot if done wrong. Some of us do use our trucks for actual work and take them off pavement, so that’s not really a good point against Rivian.

Rivian, if you’re reading this, send us an e-mail. I’d really like to try this feature out for myself!

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1773 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba