Rivian seems to get it. Electric vehicle charging is a “chicken and egg” problem. People don’t want to buy EVs because the charging networks in the US and many other countries suck. Companies don’t want to invest in charging networks because there aren’t a lot of people who would pay to use them, because they didn’t buy an EV. A good chunk of why Tesla is outperforming other manufacturers so far is that it laid down the cash to put in a decent charging network, and Rivian is planning to do the same, but in their own “adventurous” way.
In an interview with Tech Crunch, they gave some limited details on what the Rivian Adventure Network is going to look like. There will be some interstate charging stations, but because the brand is focused on rural adventures, they’re also going to be putting in chargers out there so Rivian owners will be able to use the vehicles as advertised. ““We’re excited about the opportunity to create Rivian charging locations that aren’t on the interstate, that help draw you or enable you to go to places that normally are not the kinds of places that invite or welcome electric vehicles because of charging infrastructure,” CEO CJ Scaringe told Tech Crunch.
The idea is to put destination chargers at popular hiking, kayaking, and climbing areas (among other outdoor rec sites) so that Rivian users can plug in while they enjoy the outdoors. That way, they won’t be bored while charging and can get out there far from established EV fast charging corridors. They’re also planning on putting at least some interstate DC fast charging stations in, but no details were given on that.
The Rivians will be able to use other CCS charging networks, like Electrify America, EVgo, or ChargePoint, so Rivian’s efforts will be able to extend its reach beyond what’s already there for the vehicles on day one. What we don’t currently know is whether Rivian will allow other EVs to charge at the stations.
Some Ideas For Rivian’s Network
Based on my idiotic adventures in my Nissan LEAF, I have some ideas that Rivian could put to use when building a rural charging network.
Open vs Closed Isn’t a Black & White Issue
I think there’s some room between an open and a closed network. With a closed network, only Rivian vehicles can benefit from the added locations, which would make sense from Rivian’s perspective, at least in the short term. If you have a better rural network, people traveling to such places would choose your vehicle over the other options. On the other hand, a closed network leads to fragmentation in the EV market and incompatibility between brands could end up hurting every electric only automaker in the long run.
As was said in a film set in the ancient past that I once saw, “Only Sith think in absolutes.”
There’s no reason the network can’t be open, but also put Rivian’s owners first. Where there are multiple pedestals, some can be Rivian-only while others can be open to other brands. When there’s only one, a Rivian driver could use their in-vehicle infotainment system to reserve the charger, temporarily locking out other users. It’s also possible for Rivian to work with Tesla, ChargePoint, and other providers to colocate their destination and DC fast chargers where Rivian installs, or at least pave the way for them a bit by ordering bigger electrical service for future installs.
Second, I think Rivian really needs to avoid location duplication at this point. Not only does this help its own vehicles be more valuable, but it also helps the EV market in general, of which they are a part.
If it builds more stations where there are stations already, Rivian vehicles aren’t any better off. For years, charging providers built more and more charging locations in the cities where current EV owners lived, which makes sense from a short term profitability perspective. In the long run, the stagnating EV charging infrastructure didn’t add any value to people’s vehicles. Because Rivian is building this network, adding value needs to be its first priority.
If a corridor is well covered by Electrify America, Rivian shouldn’t built more stations on that stretch of road unless there’s a big gap that would make towing an issue. One great example of this would be Interstate 10 between El Paso and Van Horn. There’s a steep hill along that stretch, and a truck towing much of a load wouldn’t even have level 2 stations available. Putting a station in Sierra Blanca or at the Flying Tiger truck stop near the top of the hill would be a great way to keep the Rivian trucks rolling.
Otherwise, the company needs to only build on interstates that don’t currently have infrastructure. Most interstates in Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas need a lot of help. Interstate 25 in New Mexico is likewise an EV wasteland. Interstate 20 through much of the Deep South could also use some love.
Work With RV Park Owners & Other Local Businesses
When it comes to driving in rural areas, RV parks have long been EV owners’ allies. Some of them charge us an arm and a leg to charge, but most of them have been excellent hosts, allowing us to use their facilities while not asking too much for the use of a charging post. Rivian can definitely build on this in some areas.
One thing Rivian can do that costs next to nothing is work with RV park owners to accommodate Rivian owners for a standard price per kWh or hour spent charging on existing poles. They can also educate park owners on best practices, safety, and other issues that may come up. Rivian owners can show up with the EVSE, and parks can help get them plugged in safely. If they want to invest a little in the relationship, gifting RV park an EVSE could to a long way to getting them to set aside a space for owners to charge up.
Along those lines, it also pays to get the other local businesses on board. While charging up at trailheads is a great idea, many of those places aren’t going to have any infrastructure. It may be possible to work with suppliers like SETEC to install low-power CCS stations at general stores, bait shops, and small restaurants to give charging that’s a little faster than level 2, but not as fast as the interstate stations.
Working with the locals also helps keep anti-EV xenophobia away. If Rivian brings the local shops business in small towns, EV owners will be seen as welcome guests and not invading watermelons coming from the blue states to ruin the traditional ways and spread communism (watermelons are green on the outside, but red on the inside). This may sound harsh and extreme, but in some small towns, I’ve encountered fairly open hostility to charging my car that was only diffused by talking guns and hunting.
If nothing else is accomplished, Rivian may sell a few more trucks to people in small towns and city-dwelling Rivian owners heading out for adventure will get better local information that makes the trip more fun.
Make Sure To Educate & Prepare Owners
While I know many Rivian owners will be ready for the rural roads, some won’t. Giving them some knowledge about traveling in the backcountry with an EV will make for a much smoother experience. I cover a lot of this in my article on the topic, but here are some highlights:
- Make sure to have an EVSE that can plug into NEMA 14-50 plugs at RV parks
- Have emergency gear like a spare tire, and not just an inflator kit.
- Bring a first aid kit, cold weather clothing (if applicable), and know where cell phones won’t work
- Consider bringing a CB or amateur radio along for emergencies
- Make sure the car’s infotainment system has a comprehensive list of charging locations, or direct them to use plugshare.com
- If the infotainment system doesn’t have a decent trip planner that accounts for load and terrain, direct them to use A Better Route Planner
- Make sure customers know to leave some margin for error, and not to arrive on 1% power
- Be sure to let people know where you’ll be if you’re going to not have cell service
If they do all of this, they’ll suffer far fewer unpleasant surprises that ruin the ownership experience.
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