Rivian wants owners of the 2022 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck to be part of a network of eco-conscious adventure seekers. The startup carmaker’s own network spreads from its Florida roots, to offices in Plymouth, Mich., its headquarters in Irvine, Calif., and its first factory in Normal, Ill.
To have a company’s footprint sprawled out among states is not unusual, yet Rivian faces some unusual obstacles in selling and servicing its vehicles without the use of franchised dealers.
Like Tesla, Polestar, and other electric vehicle startups, Rivian forgoes that traditional model by selling direct to customers. The stores it’s building will be more for brand engagement. Using the Rivian website or calling a service line, customers can do everything from schedule a test drive to place an order or request service, without ever leaving their home. A Rivian Guide connects with the customer at the beginning of the shopping experience, and that individual stays with them throughout the purchase process.
Also like most startups, the business model is a work in progress that will evolve along with customer demand. Launching in the middle of a global supply shortage has added an element of uncertainty, but, after 12 years of development, deliveries of its first vehicle, the R1T, began in late September.
Green Car Reports spoke with Jiten Behl, Rivian’s Chief Growth Officer who’s been with the company since 2015, to discuss how shoppers can test drive, order, and service a Rivian, as well as enroll in Membership.
Q: Is Rivian ready? Is the market ready for Rivian?
A: Many customers believe that their next purchase can be electric, and that is a transition from a couple years back where the feeling was, I have a lot of questions before I can even think in that direction. As an industry, as a society, we’ve gone through one transition where it’s become a serious consideration for a lot of households. A lot of questions that still exist are will the vehicles be as reliable, will the vehicles have the quality we are used to, and will the vehicles be any different, like why would I make this leap?
We wanted a white space product that defines its own segment. We wanted to attract buyers from a lot of adjacent segments. R1T has all the capability you’d expect from a large form vehicle, but it also has the usability, efficiency, and unrivaled performance on-road. When you put all this together, a vehicle that can perform at a high level on-road, at a high level off-road, without compromising on efficiency, you have a package that doesn’t exist.
That’s the white space. The true definition of a white space is you should not attract customers from any one segment predominantly. That hypothesis has been proven by our pre-order base. Less than 12% of R1T buyers come from a pickup-truck household. More than 85% of the people we’ve attracted (with the R1T) have never owned a pickup. It’s a huge win for the EV space where trucks that were known for inefficiency, and known for pollution, have now become the symbol for clean and sustainable transportation.
Q: So where do I go to test-drive an R1T or R1S?
A: Two things I’d like to point out: One, strategically we made the decision to go direct, so we have no intermediary in the form of dealerships. We have a direct connection with our customers.
Two, as we’ve done that, we’ve also decided to invest heavily in our digital backbone with a cloud platform. As an interested customer, you can do two things:
We are embarking on a multi-city test drive tour for pre-order holders to spend a few hours driving the vehicle, getting to know the brand, learning about service and charging.
(GCR: The event tour kicked off in Normal on Sunday, Sept. 25, and will stop in NYC, then Northern and Southern California. More cities will be added based on demand.)
The other format is simpler than that. You go to Rivian.com and schedule a test drive and a vehicle shows up at your household. No high pressure sales tactics, the goal is to give you the experience because we believe the best way to convert customers is to have them drive.
Q: Do you have a deposit down to schedule one?
A: Because of our huge pre-order base, we are opening the test drives as of now only to pre-order holders (who have made a deposit). That’s a short term thing; very soon we will open it up to anybody, without a pre-order. The demand has been so high, we want to get those who have been on our list for so long. They get a chance to get in the vehicles before we open them to the public.
(Rivian would not disclose how many reservation holders it has.)
We are supply constrained for months, so it might be a long wait. August was our biggest month of pre-orders and I think September will beat that.
Q: What if I order it and decide after driving it for a while, that I don’t want it?
A: If you’re not happy for whatever reason, we’ll take it back within seven days.
This model applies to service, too. We’ve gone away from the model where test drives, delivery, service, or buying the vehicle depends on a store or physical location. Delivery happens at home. If you need service, call us and we’ll repair the vehicle at your home with our mobile service vans, or we can come and give you a loaner and take the vehicle in for repair. You don’t have to come to a service station.
The question becomes, what is the role of a physical store if you’re not doing test drives, delivery, or service? For us, the role of a physical store is not a transaction center. It’s for brand engagement. We use a much lighter operational footprint and secondly, it’s completely about how we engage customers on a deeper level to engage not only with the brand but with each other and foster the community aspect. We announced Membership last week. These physical locations are the sites where membership programming gets activated.
Q: How long will this last?
A: The scalability of the model is that with EV architecture the vast majority of service events can be done at your home through a mobile van. It’s very scalable. You can see how service demands are trending and add or reallocate service vans within a geography.
Also, since these vehicles are connected and we have full control of the technology to perform diagnostics remotely, we can predict how vehicles are trending and if they need repairs or maintenance and inform customers of a fix if they want it.
Since we know what our demand heat map looks like, we know the zip code where our pre-orders live, we have strategically deployed service centers and service vans, as well as charging locations where our customers live. In the end, we will have service areas all over. The goal is to have them as electric vans, but not in the beginning.
Rivian Amazon electric delivery truck
Rivian Amazon electric delivery truck
Q: Will the Rivian service vans be the same type of van produced for Amazon?
A: In the near term, you will not see our Amazon vans as the service vans but it’s possible.
Q: Will there be captive financing? Captive insurance?
A: Rivian has launched a Rivian-branded financing product with Chase as the underwriter. From the customer point of view, they don’t have to leave the journey online. Very seamlessly they go from, “Do you want to finance?” Then we take the info to the backend built with Chase, and then we give them the offer the customer can choose from so they can stay in the portal. Same thing with insurance.