While the debate about electric cars continues in Australia, a battery-powered ute might be just around the corner.
US start-up Rivian says it is planning to sell its R1T double-cab pick-up and R1S family SUV in Australia, with a possible showroom arrival as early as 2022.
At the 2019 New York motor show, company spokesman Chris Wollen told CarAdvice: “Right-hand drive is coming, it’s been in the plans from the beginning”.
The chief marketing officer said: “We know that there’s markets that will be into these vehicles and the adventure positioning, and Australia fits that perfectly. We know we’re nicely suited for Australia so it’s an important market for us. But there’s lots to get done so we’re focusing on North America first."
Rivian says the first vehicles are due to roll off the production line in Normal, Illinois next year before full production ramps up.
"They start coming off the line for the US, Canada and Mexico in 2020 before ramping up production in 2021," said Wollen. "Plans from there have not been laid out but we’re working on it."
The company representative admitted that while the Rivian can tow up to 10,000lbs (4500kg), towing such a heavy load would dramatically diminish the claimed maximum driving range of 400 miles (643km).
"That’s why we worked so hard to have the largest battery on the market (180kWh). Yes, there is degradation when you’re towing. We can tow up to 10,000lbs but all of that has implications."
Despite claiming to be a little over a year away from production, Rivian says it does not know how much driving range is lost when towing or carrying a heavy load.
“We’ll have to go test it properly and have all the real statistics before we answer that," said Wollen. "But certainly there is degradation. That’s why we have the largest battery possible. There’s going to be use cases we’re perfect for, and some maybe not perfect for."
The spokesman did not know how much weight could be carried in the tub, but Australian utes typically can carry up to 1000kg, which in most cases is more than their larger US counterparts which have suspension that prioritises passenger-car comfort over load-carrying ability.
Rivian says there is a chance they will test the electric ute and SUV twins in Australian heat and dust before they go on sale Down Under.
“There’s a lot of heat and cold in North America that we’ve been testing in (but) I would imagine we would (test in Australia) as we get closer to it for sure," said Wollen. "The battery thermal dynamics is a big part of that. We can cool our battery or heat our battery depending upon the needs."
The Rivian twins won't be cheap: in the US the pick-up starts from US$69,000 and the SUV starts from US$74,000. At today's exchange rate, that's $96,500 and $103,400 respectively.
As for sales distribution, Rivian says it plans to mirror Tesla's business model: not have a traditional dealer network and instead sell to customers directly.
"We want to own the consumer experience for sure," said Wollen. "We believe in digitally being able to purchase and we want Rivian customers to experience the vehicle hands-on as well."
When asked if Rivian vehicles would be sold in Australia by 2022 – after a full year of sales in North America – Wollen said: “I honestly don’t know. We want to move fast so I wouldn’t want to say earlier or later.”
Contrary to initial reports, the Rivian is based on its own "skateboard" style platform rather than adapting a ladder frame from an established pick-up brand. The twins are designed to compete with full-size vehicles such as the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Tahoe.
A variety of battery packs will be available, including 105kWh model promising a range of over 370km, a 135kWh version good for more than 480km, and a top-shelf 180kWh model that has a claimed maximum driving range of almost 650km.
There will be a selection of powertrains available: a 300kW/560Nm base model with a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.9 seconds, and a higher capacity variant topping out at 562kW/1120Nm for a claimed 0-60mph time of 3.0 seconds, although both of these claims are yet to be verified.
In addition to the two show cars it is unclear how many prototypes have been built so far.
Wollen, declined to give an estimate but said there were "lots".
The startup car maker recently had another round of funding, valued at US$700 million ($978 million), with the group of investors led by online retailing giant Amazon.
The Rivian ute and SUV will be built at a factory previously owned by Mitsubishi Motors in Normal, Illinois. Rivian says many of the former factory workers are being re-hired.
Under its previous owners the factory could produce up to 250,000 cars per year, but Rivian is yet to disclose its production forecasts for the electric twins.
The company has a design and engineering centre in Detroit, a software development centre in San Jose, California, and a battery engineering facility in Irvine, California.
Rivian says this was done deliberately to place the company in the middle of relevant talent hubs.
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