In a pre-Los Angeles Auto Show reveal, an under-the-radar startup held an all electric full-size ute launch. The vehicle released may prove to be the first all-electric ute to compete with conventional, personal-use full-size utes to hit the US market.
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 very attractive to utility companies in the US.
According to the web trucking site trucks.com, ute sales account for 16 per cent 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 (650 km) plus range and a 0-60mph (97km/h) time of just three seconds.
The new ute has a number of highly innovative features that set it far apart from the ordinary 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 ute, due to launch 2019. But, given Tesla’s production difficulties with the Model 3 sedan, the ute 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 200 miles (325km) and targeted at utilities and other vocational markets. The Rivian is due in late 2019 and based on its hitting the launch at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it should be on time. At least if ex-McLaren executive and Rivian Chief Engineer has his way.
According to reports, the ute and a SUV will have around 90 per cent parts sharing. In the case of the ute, 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 very low centre of gravity but also opens up the opportunity for a cavernous forward under-bonnet trunk (or Frunk as the Tesla tweets and the Rivian spec sheet calls it) of 330 litres.
Other storage is in the bed, occupied by a spare wheel in the Rivian, of 200 litres and a truly innovative below bed, behind cab and side-to-side ‘gear tunnel’ of 350 litres 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 90-degree loading platform or drop all the way down to 180 degrees 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 180kg 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-mile between charges.
The spec sheet 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 ute technology, too. A 15.6-inch touchscreen display is centre dashboard where it can be operated by driver and passenger. A second 12.3-inch driver screen replaces the dials in the traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. A further 6.8-inch touchscreen, located at the back of the centre console, provides rear seating infotainment and climate control.
In the ute bed there are three 110-volt power outlets adding to the ute’s practicality as a work-truck. There’s a built-in compressed air source for filling bike tyres rather than powering air tools.
Rivian plans to build the two new vehicles at its plant in Normal, Illinois. This was a Mitsubishi plant and Rivian acquired it for just US$16 million in 2016, said founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. He’s a relatively young MIT graduate, and he 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 braking even now, storing 17,000 Volkswagens that cannot be sold due to the German manufacturer’s ‘dieselgate’.