But there’s a portion of the market that wants an electric car and is specifically turned off by Tesla’s lineup, its CEO, and in some cases, both. That could prove to be a boon for one of its rivals.
“I really don’t like jerk CEOs. It puts me off from the product,” said Carter Gibson, who off-roads and snowboards in California, and has ordered a Rivian to replace his Toyota 4Runner.
“Sometimes Musk can come across as a Bond villain or something, RJ does not give me those vibes,” said Stephen Henken of Montgomery, Alabama, who drives a Prius today and has ordered a Rivian R1S.
Scaringe, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT, founded Rivian in 2009, and in the following 12 years the company has diligently set about turning itself into a real, full-fledged automaker before ever selling a single car.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment and generally does not engage with the professional news media.
A true electric truck
Matt Thomson, a Denver real estate agent, says he spends up to $700 a month on gas for his GMC Sierra, taking clients to view homes or towing his horses. He said he’s grown tired of needing an oil change every other month.
Thomson says he’s not generally a risk-taker, or an early adopter. But he’s placed a pre-order for Rivian’s pickup truck, the R1T, and his wife has a pre-order for the company’s SUV, the R1S.
“When we pull into a horse show now you’ve got [Ford] F-150s, you’ve got GMC Sierras, [Chevy] Silverados and that’s it,” Thomson said. “You just kind of want to blend in.”
Andy Crews, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he’s always loved his dad’s pickup, but felt guilty about it getting just 12 miles per gallon. He hikes or runs every day on trails, and has been waiting for an electric pick-up, he said. Crews said he loves Tesla and has owned a Model S since 2013, but doesn’t want a Cybertruck.
“It’s built out of freaking steel,” Crews said, “but it looks ugly.”
“It’s probably actually a very practical vehicle, if there’s an apocalypse,” he added.
Rivian’s paint colors have names like glacier white, forest green and compass yellow. The company offers an option to purchase a tent that mounts atop its vehicles, and it sells specific mounts for bikes, snowboards, skis, kayaks and surfboards. Traditional automakers like Ford, GM and Subaru offer similar attachments; Tesla does not.
“Rivian has thought more than Tesla about who is going to be driving it, what they’re going to be feeling when they’re driving it and what they’re going to be doing,” said Ryan Michael McCarthy, who describes himself as not a pick-up truck guy. He wants Rivian’s truck because it seems so functional: it has a $5,000 option for a small kitchen that pulls out of the side of the vehicle, complete with a stove, sink and utensils.
“They feel like a family,” McCarthy said. “You feel like you want to be a part of them and their culture.”
“It’s an all-around mission and I like that,” said Bowen, a father who lives on a farm and has pre-ordered a Rivian SUV. “We’re glad there’s an alternative to the Model X that suits more of our needs, and I think will fit in better with our lifestyle and our philosophy.”
Overpromising and under-delivering?
Of course, there’s a risk that Rivian itself will overpromise and under-deliver. It has delayed delivery of its vehicles before, and the road to full-rate production may inevitably come with its own challenges.
David Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland’s business school, said Rivian’s team, product and investors all look promising, but there are no guarantees it will meet expectations. Rivian is the first to market with a modern electric pick-up, but it remains to be seen exactly how much demand there are for electric pick-ups.
Rivian will also have to prove that it can mass produce vehicles at a profit. There are always uncertainties for new automakers when moving from batch production to mass production. Costs could increase, which could cut into Rivian’s profits, or totally wipe them out.
Provided Rivian can manufacture at scale, it will also have to show that it can adequately support and service its trucks after sale, something Tesla has struggled with at times.
“You see concept images of a car, you get excited. You see a facility to build it, you get excited. You see production versions and get more excited,” said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com. “But none of that means anything once the person buys the car.”