How Rivian is offering something Tesla Cybertruck cannot

The all-electric Tesla Cybertruck is not for everyone, and Rivian may be able to capitalize.

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The Tesla Cybertruck is perhaps the firm's most striking design — for better or for worse.

"It just screams ‘obnoxious guy truck,’" Rebecca Puck Stair, an Alberquerque-based movie location scout, told the New York Times in a story this week. The Cybertruck was first revealed in November 2019 with a late 2021 release date. Around a year ago, Stair heard about the electric automaker Rivian, and instead put a deposit down for its upcoming R1S SUV.

Stair represents a segment of the market that is taking a chance on the relative newcomer. While Tesla's angular Cybertruck has attracted widespread media attention, Rivian, led by CEO RJ Scaringe, is opting for a more approach that's more reserved in comparison. The R1S and R1T truck will roll out of its Normal, Illinois factory this summer with an equally normal design.

The Rivian R1S SUV, as seen in a promotional photo from the company, starts at $70,000 and its electric battery has a range of more than 300 miles.

The two cars represent Rivian's big jump into the consumer electric car market:

  • The R1S starts at $70,000 and uses a quad-motor arrangement, offers a towing capacity of up to 7,700 pounds, can go from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds, and has a wading depth of three feet. It can travel over 300 miles per charge with the premium battery option, over 250 miles on the entry-level pack. The Tesla Model X SUV, by comparison, starts at $78,490 with 371 miles of range.
  • The R1T starts at $67,500 with similar specs to the R1S. The main differences are a towing capacity of up to 11,000 pounds, and an option for a battery pack with over 400 miles of range.

Tesla's closest competitor, the Cybertruck, starts at $39,900 for a single-motor truck. A tri-motor Cybertruck starts at $69,900. The entry-level model has a battery range of over 250 miles, a towing capacity of over 7,500 pounds, and acceleration times of under 6.5 seconds. For the tri-motor model, it has a range of over 500 miles, a towing capacity of over 14,000 pounds, and acceleration times of under 2.9 seconds.

The Rivian R1T.


Rivian is focusing its marketing efforts on fans of the outdoors. The firm is placing electric car chargers in less traditional locations, like near hiking trails. Scaringe told TechCrunch in December 2020 that the strategy means drivers can decide "if you want to stop midway through the trip for a one-mile, two-mile or five-mile hike."

More money — Investors are taking note. On Tuesday, the firm announced it had raised $2.65 billion from its latest fundraising round, valuing the company at $27 billion and bringing total investments to $8 billion.

For comparison, Tesla was worth $27 billion as recently as December 2016. At the time of writing it's worth $800 billion.

Back to Cybertruck — Musk has claimed before that the Cybertruck is angular for a reason. Its body is made from cold-rolled 30X steel, which essentially acts as the car's exoskeleton. The material can't be stamped with regular tools, Musk said days after the reveal, "because it breaks the stamping press."

It's possible that Tesla could respond if the Cybertruck's design proves too divisive. In August 2020, Musk said in an interview that "our fallback strategy" is that "we could just do some copycat truck." He also said that "if it turns out nobody wants to buy a weird-looking truck, we'll build a normal truck, no problem."

Tesla Cybertruck.

Getty Images

The Inverse analysis — Rivian could find a receptive audience of electric car buyers turned off by the divisive Cybertruck.

Scaringe has been keen to avoid comparisons with Tesla before, telling Inverse in March 2019 that "Tesla’s not who we’re taking volume from...we’re taking volume from all the non-electric vehicles."

RJ Scaringe, CEO of Rivian.

Natasha Chomko/POST-WOOK, for Inverse

Make no mistake, though: both companies want to convert more gas car drivers to EVs. Musk's goal at Tesla is to produce 20 million cars per year by 2030. Factories in Shanghai and Berlin will produce entry-level Model 3 and Y cars to reach more consumers than ever.

Beyond Rivian's first two electric cars, the firm also plans electric delivery trucks for Amazon. Scaringe then plans to reach markets like Europe and China with smaller vehicles that use their predecessors' components — a plan that bears striking similarities to Tesla.

In this emerging race to attract more buyers, the main beneficiary could end out being the consumer.

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