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Can Rivian's next-gen EVs turn it into a global powerhouse?

CEO RJ Scaringe is ready to transform Rivian - time to meet the man and the new models that'll form part of the master plan

Published: 30 May 2024

Either the gentleman next to me needs to lay off the triple-shot soy mocha lattes – or whatever it is they consume by the pint in California – or he’s quite excited to be here. He’s physically vibrating... probably why he’s strapped his iPhone to a gimbal stabiliser and hasn’t stopped filming the back of someone’s head for the past 10 minutes. When Rivian’s CEO and founder RJ Scaringe, eventually strolls on to the stage in a khaki shirt, jeans and pink Velcro Nikes, the guy erupts into a three-minute standing ovation of “Yeah!”, “Let’s go RJ!” and XL fist pumps. To be fair, the entire crowd does. Call me old fashioned, but doesn’t the applause usually come at the end of the show?

We’re gathered – the world’s media, enthusiastic Rivian owners and employees, RJ’s kids – in an old theatre in Laguna Beach, recently renovated to become Rivian’s flagship ‘space’. Think dealership with fewer sweaty salesman, more responsibly sourced flat whites. We’re here to see the new R2, the long anticipated next piece of the puzzle that provides a cheaper, smaller entry point to the squeaky clean Rivian brand, and expands sales beyond the US to Europe and other markets. RJ will be praying it’ll send profits and share prices to the moon.

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I sit through the hour-long presentation, watching RJ talking effortlessly in that uniquely American way to a livestream camera rig swooping around the stage. The R2 rolls out first, the crowd goes wild – especially when it’s revealed it has not one, but two gloveboxes. I’m confused, do you even need gloves in California? Squint and it looks virtually identical to its bigger brother – the R1S – albeit hit with a shrink ray, but it’s a handsome, bluff thing that makes a Tesla Model Y look like a piece of Play-Doh left on the radiator.

Photography: Greg Pajo

Next it’s RJ’s ‘just one more thing’ Colombo moment as he stuns the crowd by ushering out the R3 – an even smaller hatchback-style SUV that I immediately declare will take Europe by storm. The man next to me is now rocking back and forth and caught somewhere between laughing and crying. When RJ pulls his final joker card, a tri-motor, silly performance R3X and flashes up a video of it drifting about on a gravel road, the gasps are audible and my neighbour has been rendered speechless. Which is a relief.

Credit where it’s due, the presentation is riddled with emotive video compilations of family days by the lake, grainy footage of birthday parties and couples conquering mountains... messages that tickle your emotions and spirit in ways other car companies don’t. “It starts with harnessing the very thing every human being is born with: an adventurous spirit. There’s a reason we’re hardwired with curiosity and a capacity to invent better ways of doing things. The part of us that seeks to explore the world is the secret to making sure it remains a world worth exploring. Forever.” That’s an RJ quote on the company website. Cheesy, but see what I mean?

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We’ll come to Rivian’s financial future in a minute, but the look and feel of the products and the brand are unquestionably strong, while the fever surrounding Rivian already should have the old guard scratching their heads.

9 minutes 28 seconds

Let’s talk about cars, R2 first. Based on a brand new mid-sized platform it’s fractionally shorter and narrower, but a little taller, than the Tesla Model Y (although it looks way bigger with its horizontal roof and chopped rear). Prices will start from around $45,000 (a Model Y costs from $36,450 in the US) when deliveries kick off in the first half of 2026. About that – RJ slipped into his speech that initially the R2 would be built at the existing plant in Normal, Illinois, rather than the new $5bn factory being built outside Atlanta, Georgia.

It was confirmed a few days after the event that the Georgia factory build would be put on pause, but definitely not axed altogether – a move that Rivian claims will save $2.25bn (£1.8bn) in “capital spending” and allow the R2 to reach the market quicker. Last year Rivian delivered a little over 50,000 R1T trucks and R1S SUVs (losing money on each one) although the Illinois factory has the capacity to build 215,000 – doesn’t take a maths genius to see where this latest idea came from. Once the Georgia factory is built, it could crank out as many as 400,000 a year. Hello production hell.

There will be three R2 versions to choose from – single, dual and tri-motor (two motors on the rear axle, one on the front) with no confirmed power or torque outputs yet, but a claimed 0–60mph of under 3.0 seconds for the ‘tri’. Gone is the R1S’s fancy McLaren-style cross-linked dampers and air suspension, to screw the price down, but the trade off for less off-road ability is better on-road manners, Scaringe insists. Battery details are also tbc, other than they’ll debut a more energy dense chemistry, the pack is a structural element of the car (so the top of the battery pack is also the floorpan you rest your pink Velcro Nikes on) and the range will be over 300 miles, on all versions.

A new “Perception Stack” featuring 11 cameras, five radars and more computing power will give it “dramatically enhanced autonomous capabilities”. Nice side-step of the dreaded ‘self-driving’ right there.

 

All windows – including the rear quarters that pop out, and the rear screen that slides down into the boot – can be dropped electrically for a “unique open-air driving experience”. Pretty sure Rivian borrowed that one from the Fisker Ocean, but interesting nonetheless, while new haptic control dials are the most revolutionary bit about the pared back, high quality interior. You have a physical wheel for each thumb that can roll up and down, be pushed from the front or back, or pressed side to side and texturised with variable haptic feedback depending on what menu you’re controlling. Scroll down a list, for example, and you’ll feel a notch at each option, then the wheel will lock out at the end. Whether it’s perfectly natural to use or permanently infuriating we shall see, but a smart way of marrying analogue with digital.

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The front trunk will fit “a carry on suitcase plus a backpack, or up to six reusable grocery bags”. Sorry plastic bags, you’re not welcome in Rivian’s sustainable future. The boot will fit “two checked suitcases, two carry on suitcases, plus a stroller and several backpacks above the cargo load floor”. It’s a big boot in other words, and both the front and the rear seats fold totally flat for “a true car camping experience fit for two people”. Two people who can’t be bothered to faff about with a tent.

Speaking of which, Rivian is all about the adventure and will offer the option of a new, more compact travel kitchen, various bike racks and a ‘Rivian Treehouse’ for R2 and R3. “Our take on a rooftop tent brings the nostalgia of an epic childhood fort with a heated mattress, integrated lighting system and movie screen, all with incredible views.” Depends on where you park, surely, but sign me up. Despite being able to count the number of times I’ve been camping in the past decade on one hand, I like to think of myself as an outdoorsy type. Deep down we all do, and Rivian preys mercilessly on that person we all want to be.

Moving on to the R3, for which the details get a little vaguer. Not surprising, given it’ll arrive after R2 deliveries are underway – think 2027 earliest. Based on the same platform as the R2, the R3 is the baby of the family and will be priced accordingly – around $35k to $40k – more for the triple-motor performance R3X version that’ll smash 0–60mph in “well under 3.0 seconds”. The R3’s trick, apart from looking stupendously good, is a split tailgate so you can open the rear glass in isolation and close it at any angle to wedge in long things like surfboards.

Rivian preys mercilessly on that person we all want to be

So, the new cars are pretty captivating, the ultra-eco minimalist brand image is appealing and distinctive (if a little contradictory when your business is flogging 800+bhp trucks) but the big question mark now is whether Rivian can keep its investors happy and the lights on long enough to fulfil its ambition of selling hundreds of thousands, if not millions of EVs a year. A big part of that is getting these models on sale in Europe, which will happen, although Scaringe doesn’t yet know when.

“Both models are designed at their core for both the US and Europe. We haven’t said specifically when they’ll come to Europe, we should and we need to, but we recognise how appealing they are in the European market and especially R3 really fits.”

In 15 short years Rivian has come a hell of a long way from ambitious startup to a potential global EV powerhouse, so we ask Scaringe what advice he’d give himself from 15 years ago, now? “Just go for it. I didn’t think it would have been as hard. I didn’t think it would take as long. I didn’t think supply chains were as complex as they are. I didn’t know managing organisations was as hard as this, but I still would’ve just said, go for it – you’re going to figure out a lot and you’re going to learn a tonne.”

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