Rivian says they’re on a mission to keep the world adventurous forever. Robert “RJ” Scaringe founded the company in 2009 with the idea that he wanted to find a more responsible way to explore the world and make the transition to sustainable transportation an exciting one. RJ earned his MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he was a member of the research team in the Sloan Automotive Laboratory.
Eleven years, millions of dollars, and the growth to a couple of hundred employees in seven locations later, Rivian is poised to launch its all-electric pickup truck. The R1T truck claims 400+ miles of range; an impressive 0-60 in three seconds; wading depth over three feet; max towing 11,000; and a a jaw-dropping 750 hp. The R1T is roughly the same length (within an inch) of a Jeep Gladiator and about a half-inch wider than a Honda Passport; it should be nimble enough for both work and play, city and country.
We spent a little time with Rivian chief engineer of special projects Brian Gase, who drove the brand’s in-development three-row SUV (the R1S) from the southern tip of South America all the way up to Los Angeles. But first, they had to design and install the electric infrastructure to do it. What is this upstart company up to?
Kristin Shaw: Hi, I’m here live at Fully Charged Live USA in Austin at COTA and I’m here with Brian Gase from Rivian. So we’re very excited to hear what Rivian is up to. Brian heads up special projects, which means he gets to do really cool stuff…
Brian Gase: Sometimes…
Kristin Shaw: …like driving from Argentina to L.A.
Brian Gase: Yup, so we ship vehicles end of August for durability testing. We went down the southern tip of South America and then drove for about 105 days up to L.A through all conditions and all weather. We’re doing tremendous amounts of durability testing on our vehicles, normal proving ground types of work. But we’re an adventure company first, so we went out and said, “Let’s do something that’s a little bit more extreme. Let’s build up the charge infrastructure and go and have this journey now that we’ve put that grid in place.” It was, for me, a really amazing lifetime experience. But also, seeing our vehicles on the road for the first time, driving along, was really, really cool.
Kristin Shaw: So you set up an infrastructure of charging stations along the way?
Brian Gase: Absolutely. We built basically two Level Two chargers every – give or take – one hundred miles throughout the route. The reason was, while the vehicles we took had a 300 mile range with it, you might not want to stop at the end of every day and fully charge it, so we put it in place so that we could stay where we wanted to, go off the path, go off-roading, do some cool things, see some really cool places.
Kristin Shaw: Which model did you take on this trip?
Brian Gase: We took two of the R1Ts.
Kristin Shaw: Okay. You went off-roading. So off-roading in a EV: what’s it like compared to a fuel-powered car?
Brian Gase: The cool side of it is: obviously, with four motors you’ve got all time, all-wheel drive, with independent power per wheel. The vehicle has a lot of capability. On the downhill side in an EV I no longer have to downshift the engine brake, I’ve got a generating system that’ll hold the vehicle in position on a hill. On one of the coolest weather days, we were up on this mountain and we took a bunch of photos, then we went down and the battery was at 6% more at the bottom than at the top.
Kristin Shaw: And now you’re offering a three-row SUV.
Brian Gase: Correct. The R1S has about a 12-inch shorter wheelbase than the truck. It’s built on the same chassis and is common forward of the B pillars, which helps us to develop it more quickly, keep investment low, and put out a vehicle that will be on the same line as its sister product, the truck.
Kristin Shaw: When is it going to be available?
Brian Gase: The truck will be end of this year and the SUV Q1 of next year (2021).
Kristin Shaw: And have you announced pricing?
Brian Gase: We’ve announced that it’ll come pretty well equipped so not fully loaded; it’s $72,500, before federal tax credit, and you can go up from there, with additional functions and features, or you can go down from there.
Kristin Shaw: Now I’m excited because the three-row SUV market is hot. Kia has the Telluride, and Hyundai the Palisade. The Rivian is going to be competitive.
Brian Gase: Absolutely.
Kristin Shaw: It might be one of the more expensive, but it’s an EV. What would make somebody choose the R1S: what kind of features do you offer, especially with regards to safety, that makes it comparable?
Brian Gase: That’s a great question. So I’m a family guy; I have a wife and three boys: a 10 year old and twin eight year olds. I actually joined Rivian in 2010, just before my kids were born. Safety absolutely matters, and our SUV is a vehicle designed to be safe. It’s set up that way. The most important thing to have at the end of the day is making sure that if something bad does happen, you’re as protected as you possibly can be. From the vehicle perspective, safety is one way we differentiate ourselves outside of just being an EV.
Also, we wanted it to be known as an adventure vehicle you can use to have family adventures, take your kids, get to the beach, go out on the trail, get up to the base camp that you’re hiking, whatever it is. There’s a lot of off-road capability with the vehicle, especially with the 400 or so mile range. It’s a comfortable seating pattern with a third row that will comfortably fit a child or an adult in the back seat.
Kristin Shaw: I know there are some automakers who are doing a really good job offering safety features standard. Is that the same with Rivian? It’s included in the base model?
Brian Gase: Yup, yup. So we have, some of our autonomous systems features are with the higher level trim packages but from advanced collision detection, all of that stuff is based on what is absolutely critical to us.
Kristin Shaw: And Brian, you’ve been with Rivian for eight years?
Brian Gase: Nine and a half. I joined in 2010.
Kristin Shaw: What was it like when you first started? What were you thinking, this new company…?
Brian Gase: It was a very interesting place. We were a really small team, and everybody was quick to align; we all had shared values and a shared vision of doing something better. From our CEO down, we’ve never wanted to build a car company or a vehicle just to put another car on the road. The goal isn’t to make another SUV so that you can have another three-row SUV in the market. The goal is to put a product out there that is compelling and exciting and different.
To get back to the family side, let’s make the world better for our kids and our children’s children. We feel that electrifying the vehicle space, doing it this way, where you’re not making tradeoffs and going into a smaller footprint vehicle, where you can still have your stuff, still have your adventure, and then being able to use those batteries sustainably for a second life, to electrify the grid that provides power to the vehicle.
The thing that won me over, the reason I joined Rivian and the reason I’m extremely excited to talk to people now is this. The product is great, but the leaders have always said, “We’re going to build this thing that doesn’t exist. We’re going to do something.” And you’re like “Yeah, but what about all these challenges?” We’ll solve the problems, we’ll bring in the funding, we’ll get the right team, we’ll get the right product. When you’re around people who are just eternally optimistic, it’s so refreshing. It makes you motivated to do what you’re doing. When we spend time with our CEO, R.J., we might say, “I’m going to tell him this isn’t going to work. I’m going in,” and you walk in, and by the time you leave, you’re saying “Why am I excited to do this thing?” And you know you got “R.J.ed” again.
Kristin Shaw: You got “R.J.ed”. It’s a verb.
Brian Gase: Exactly. The fun side of it though is as you build people that share those values and share that sense of “No, we’re going to do this because we’re determined and we’re passionate.” Because we’re big-picture thinkers. It’s really, really cool to be a part of. I mean it’s so much more exciting to work with positive people in general.
Kristin Shaw: That sounds like a great company to work with. How does it compare with its competitors?
Brian Gase: From a current market today, there are a few EVs out in space. But from a SUV perspective, finding a vehicle that does 0-60 in three seconds, has 8,000-pound towing capacity, goes through three feet of water, has 400 miles of range, and is built in America just doesn’t really exist out there. Competitors are a really interesting thing though, because you can look at us from specialty truck side: are we competitive with trucks or are we competitive with EVs?
We’ve got the performance specs of sports cars, and it’s this real cool dichotomy of this and that, where you can bring all these features of a sports car into this truck but it fits more of their stuff. Or from the perspective of the vehicle as a truck, you have the space but you’re not trading off all those other daily uses to emissions. We’re really proud of that combination.
Kristin Shaw: I think that’s where families are really going to see the difference. They buy vehicles for what they might do, maybe not what they do every day. They might tow a boat, they might tow a camper, they might need it to tow plywood or put furniture in it, but they can also not have a gas-guzzling vehicle.
Brian Gase: We’re an adventure brand; we want people to go out and see the world and do things. For me, my adventure is no longer going out and snowboarding with friends, it’s taking my kids to a park and hanging out with them. I’ve got three kids in Cub Scouts – I pre-ordered the R1T as soon as I could and I can’t wait to have the kitchen and go to the Cub Scout campout with my boys and pull out the kitchen and cook off my battery.
That, to me, is going to be such a cool experience for people to see that you can use this electric footprint to do some really amazing stuff, and you can do it in a way that you no longer have a gas-guzzling vehicle. For me, it’s a really cool story to be a part of.