Rivian, the electric truck startup that launched production last month at its downstate Normal factory, has put its R1T pickup to the test in grueling settings from the Colorado Rockies to the Nevada desert.
In Chicago, drivers want to know how the $73,000 electric truck will handle Chiberian winters, vehicle-swallowing potholes and the daily demolition derby of rush hour traffic.
Those questions will remain unanswered for now, but the Tribune did get to tool breezily on a sunny fall afternoon test drive on Sheridan Road along the North Shore, turning heads as suburbanites got their first in-person look at a bright blue Rivian truck.
Founded in 2009 by CEO RJ Scaringe, Rivian is building an electric truck and SUV, as well as 100,000 custom delivery vans for Amazon, an investor in the company. Rivian has raised about $10.5 billion from investors since 2019, a roster that also includes Ford Motor Co. and T. Rowe Price.
Rivian is planning an initial public offering that has yet to be priced, but could raise at least $100 million, according to an Oct. 1 Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
The company has generated significant buzz with its inaugural models, which feature 300-plus miles of range, go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds and start at $73,000 for the R1T truck and $75,500 for the R1S SUV, offset by a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles. The first trucks rolled off the line in September, while the SUV is expected to launch in December, according to the IPO filing.
As of Sept. 30, Rivian had received 48,390 preorders for the launch editions, according to the IPO filing.
Rivian has 3,136 employees working at its Illinois production facility, a converted Mitsubishi plant in Normal, a college town about 130 miles south of Chicago. The company, which is headquartered in Irvine, California, has about 9,000 employees overall.
The Normal plant can produce up to 150,000 vehicles annually, with expansion plans enabling it to ramp up to 200,000 vehicles by 2023, according to the IPO filing.
On Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Rivian unveiled a new training program at Heartland Community College in Normal, funded in part by a $15 million state grant, to develop manufacturing talent for the projected growth in EV production.
Rivian has a jump on a number of competitors as it vies to become the Tesla of trucks. In July, Ford unveiled the F-150 Lightning at a special summer edition of the Chicago Auto Show. The $40,000 electric truck is due in dealerships by the middle of next year.
Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shuttled William Shatner, best known for his role as Star Trek Captain James T. Kirk, to a Texas launch site in an R1T truck for the nonagenarian’s first actual space flight aboard a Blue Origin rocket. But in-person sightings of the truck remain few and far between, especially in Chicago, where Rivian has eschewed bringing prototypes to the Chicago Auto Show.
A North Shore test drive Wednesday turned many heads, starting with a photo shoot at the Gillson Beach parking lot in Wilmette, where a park district employee in a golf cart swooped in and asked if we had a permit to take photos, which he quickly laughed off as a guise to get a closer look.
A few minutes later, a Wilmette couple detoured from their daily mid-morning walk along the beach and made a beeline for the R1T, its doors, front trunk, charging port and other cavities open for inspection.
“We just came around the beach house and were on the sidewalk, and my husband called it out right away — he knew exactly what it was,” said Kristin Harper, 52. “He’s like a savant when it comes to cars, so he was really interested in seeing it.”
Charles Harper, 48, an attorney and auto buff who just bought a BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid, celebrated the sighting like a bird watcher checking a rare species off his list.
“It looked like a Rivian to me from a distance,” Harper said. “It looked like an electric truck, and I wasn’t aware of any other electric trucks that would be out driving around at this point, except for maybe the new Ford, but I haven’t seen one of those. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Rivian in person too.”
The gawkers were out in full force during a brief drive north along Sheridan Road.
Once in motion, a dashboard driver screen displays speed, battery life and a real-time visualization that showed surrounding vehicles and a healthy number of power walkers and bicyclists plying the shoulder.
Switching the drive mode from All Purpose to Sport on the large center touchscreen, we sliced through the twisty ravines north of Tower Road in Winnetka with authority, handling that made the R1T truck feel more like an F1 racer.
Next, we field tested the EV’s quad-motor acceleration, slowing down on an open stretch of straightaway and then punching the accelerator, launching with such seat-slamming force that it seemed to verge on escape velocity.
Whipping silently north on Sheridan Road amid the anonymous drone of light traffic, the R1T elicited curious glances and craning double takes from drivers and pedestrians alike.
But the definitive reaction was a drive-by shout out from a man in a southbound convertible, who simply yelled “wow” as we passed on our way to a Glencoe turnaround.
The R1T can tow up to 11,000 pounds, has an estimated range of 314 miles, vegan leather seats, a built-in air compressor and 68 cubic feet of storage, among other standard features. Available accessories include a 400-mile range battery pack, a camp kitchen and a three-person tent that attaches to cargo crossbars atop the truck.
The launch edition of the R1T is sold out, the company said. But the Adventure, which has similar features and is also priced at $73,000 before the federal rebate, and the Explore, a slightly more utilitarian model priced at $67,500, are due out in January.