Rivian vs. Tesla: Will 2019 Will Be the Year of the Electric Pickup Truck?

Rivian's conventional truck faces off against Elon Musk's 'Blade Runner' mobile.

The name R.J. Scaringe doesn’t yet elicit the same sort of fascination as Elon Musk, but the MIT grad and CEO of Rivian, the 560-person electric vehicle company poised to reveal its battery-powered pick-up truck in a few weeks, may soon find himself the latest competitor to the Tesla CEO.

Before it takes the wraps off its first two vehicles later this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Rivian got the hype train moving this week with the release of a cinematic promo video (see it above).

The debut Rivian models will be a five-passenger pickup truck and seven-passenger SUV, and Rivian will start with small volume.

“Those first two products we won’t be selling in the hundreds of thousands of units,” Scaringe told FOX News in September. He added, later, “Following those we’ll have additional products that do take our products into the hundreds of thousands, but that will be later in the 2020s.”

Here are the top-line stats Rivian is promising for its electric vehicles:

  • Up to a 400-mile range
  • 0-60 acceleration in fewer than 3 seconds
  • 800 horsepower
  • Price: TBA

“We’re creating electric adventure vehicles.”

Rivian is clearly positioning itself a little differently than other electric car companies competing with Tesla. The Rivian brand is being marketed to people who embrace the outdoors and don’t mind getting their vehicle covered in mud during the weekend, as the voice-over in the promotional video above indicates.

Appealing to adventurers differentiates Rivian from Tesla, which might be compared to Apple — sleek, expensive, shiny. Other new companies, like Lucid Motors, run in part by former Tesla designers, appear to have a similar aesthetic that pairs high-performance with luxury.

Where Rivian Vehicles Will be Made

Rivian will build its “electric skateboards” — the chassis of the car is just that, four wheels around a deck that makes up the battery — at the former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois.

The facility is scheduled to become operational by 2020, funded in part by $200 million from Standard Chartered, the London-based bank, an investment that was announced in May. Rivian has raised an estimated $450 million, according to various reports.

A rendering of the Rivian "skateboard."

Scaringe started what is now Rivian in 2009 as a hybrid car company, but as electric battery technology improved and market interest picked up — no doubt partially the side-effect of Tesla’s early hype — the company pivoted to producing all-electric vehicles. It changed names a few times (Mainstream Motors gave way to Avera Automative) before it settled on Rivian in 2011. Rivian is based in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, Michigan, to take advantage of the close distance to parts suppliers.

The video released by Rivian Thursday to tease its pickup truck uses an interesting choice of words, given its competition: “Launch Into Space.” Musk has said a few times that Tesla is essentially a company whose profits will go toward funding the pursuits of SpaceX, the company he started to eventually send humans to Mars.

“I want to contribute as much as possible to humanity becoming a multi-planet species,” Musk told the New York Times in January. “That obviously requires a certain amount of capital.” Musk’s massive amount of stock in Tesla would be that capital.

Elon Musk with the Tesla Model X, the SUV got its debut in 2015. Rivian will unveil its all-electric SUV later this month.

Will 2019 Be the Year of the Electric Pickup Truck?

Of course, Tesla’s making its own pickup truck, and Musk has played up the cool factor of the still under-wraps vehicle a few times recently.

“Probably my personal favorite for the next product is the pickup truck, and we are going to just do an amazing pickup truck,” he said during the Tesla Q3 earnings call in October.

Musk cranked up the hype a few weeks later to Kara Swisher on her consistently news-worthy Recode Decode podcast.

“It’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, Blade Runner pickup truck,” Musk said on the podcast. “It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great.”

It’s not clear if Musk, a savvy marketer, had the competition in mind with his comments, but the Tesla pickup is scheduled to debut sometime in 2019, based on comments he made last year. No date has been announced, but it seems that Rivian is poised to be the first company to unveil an all-electric pickup truck intended for the public.

Conventional vs. Blade Runner

Scaringe has indicated in interviews this year the design of the Rivian truck will be more conventional and less futuristic than what one might expect when they hear the words “electric pickup truck.” In that interview with FOX News, Scaringe said the designers set out to make an “inviting” truck that people were comfortable getting dirty.

“It combines a level of sophistication with a level of ruggedness, which is really something we don’t see a lot of today,” Scaringe said.

So, expect a contrast between the Rivian truck and the Tesla one that Musk compared to something out of Blade Runner. But until the LA Auto Show gets underway in late November, we’ll only have the glimpses to go on.

Related video: Watch the Livewire, the Electric Harley-Davidson set to debut in 2019

This report has been updated to reflect the latest employee count for Rivian and its new location.

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