Rivian owners can’t avoid their trucks, bugs and all

Washington, DC

Denis Wang says he always hated the car-buying process — until he met Rivian.

His purchase of the automaker’s R1T electric pickup was so wonderful that he said he drove the Rivian employee who shepherded him through his purchase 45 minutes to Rivian’s office in Irvine, Calif., for coffee. (Rivian pairs new buyers with a “guide” who answers all questions throughout the process.)

Wang said she brought a thank-you card and a $100 gift card to REI, knowing her guide had a trip to South America coming up.

“I felt like I owed him something,” Wang told CNN Business. “He was really invested in this process and wanted to make sure I had a great experience.”

For example, Wang said his guide remembered a configuration of the R1T he was initially interested in and found a vehicle that matched it and offered Wang the truck to pick up earlier.

Wang, like many new Rivian owners, praised Rivian’s customer service and vehicle quality.

They say their Rivians are among the best, if not the best, vehicles they’ve ever owned. Some compared their Rivians – which can reach 60 mph in 3 seconds – to driving a sports car. The vehicles have flaws, including a recall earlier this month that affected nearly every Rivian, but fewer than one would expect from a new automaker. At least one Rivian owner has had the company reach out to them after posting about a truck problem in an online forum.

“I thought Tesla set the bar, and it still does in some respects,” said Wang, who has never owned a truck. “The Rivian is probably my favorite vehicle.”

Rivian, founded in 2009 by MIT-educated engineer RJ Scaringe, went public in 2021 as one of the largest IPOs ever, raising $11.9 billion, two months after the first vehicles were manufactured for customers. Companies like Ford and Amazon have invested in it. Many auto experts say Tesla is best positioned among a group of electric vehicle startups looking to compete with players like Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors.

It has had growing pains as it has launched three vehicles at the same time: the R1T, the R1S SUV and a delivery van for Amazon. Shipments have been delayed. Rivian’s shares are down 66% this year as the electric vehicle maker’s value has fallen sharply. Rivian has laid off 6% of its workforce in July.

CNN Business interviewed 13 Rivia owners to hear how happy they are with their vehicles, which can cost around $100,000, depending on the options included.

Matt Thomson was anxious to receive his R1T earlier this year. He never even tried the pickup. He waited more than three years after putting down his deposit, and asked if he could live up to the hype.

Thomson picked up his R1T at a service center in Denver and drove it home. On the dirt road leading to his ranch, a problem arose.

Thomson parked his R1T at home and while his family looked on, he tried to demonstrate the automatic pickup bed cover that opens and closes at the push of a button.

But it got stuck because dirt and gravel got stuck, he said.

Many Rivian owners describe similar issues with the feature. Some owners say they keep the function lubricated with WD-40 or graphite to keep it from breaking. Some describe avoiding using the cover or handling it with care to try to avoid problems.

“As you probably know, there are issues with our electric roof,” Rivian emailed owners in September. “While most work as intended, many do not.”

It has since stopped shipping the feature and said it is working on a solution.

“These were a big flop,” Thomson said. “But if that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen in a new car company, I’ll be fine.”

He says his Rivian tows his horse and donkey trailer better than his latest vehicle, a 2020 GMC Sierra. He was one of many owners who say the Thomson is so smooth that they almost forget they’re carrying something. Thomson said he loves the suspension, which automatically adjusts to stay level while loaded, instead of leaning back like his old trucks.

“Bmm, I’ve had the Lexus and everything else. Nothing even remotely compares to the way this one drives,” Thomson said. “It’s literally been overwhelming. I couldn’t be more satisfied.”

Thomson said he’s saving about $650-$700 a month in fuel costs and taking more day trips with his family because he’s not worried about the cost.

Oregon resident Phil Barnhart owns a Tesla Model S Plaid that he calls “an absolute masterpiece of technological achievement.” The sedan starts at $135,990 and goes from 0-60 mph in 1.99 seconds, faster than a Lamborghini.

He claims to own shares in Tesla, and was the first owner of Tesla’s 2012 Model S vehicle, which put the automaker on the map and was named Motor Trend Car of the Year.

But these days Barnhart is driving his new R1T pickup more than the Tesla Model S Plaid.

“It’s the perfect dad car,” he says of his R1T. He often drives three kids, their friends, sports equipment and the family dog ​​in what is essentially a midsize pickup about the size of a Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger.

Rivian owners have generally praised the R1T's features, including the gear tunnel for extra storage.

He was one of the owners who spoke highly of the Rivian’s “gear tunnel,” the extra storage compartment behind the R1T’s second row. They say it is suitable for storing things like sports equipment or food. The gear tunnel door is also a convenient seat for putting on or taking off shoes, they say.

Barnhart was one of the Rivian owners who said they are very pleased with how accurately Rivian estimates its vehicle range.

“Tesla’s range estimate is very ambitious,” Barnhart said. “The Rivian range estimate is really informative.”

Barnhart believes that Rivian’s first vehicle, the R1T, is clearly better than its predecessor, Tesla’s first mass-release vehicle, the 2012 Tesla Model S. But Rivian’s software can’t compare to what Tesla currently offers, including its Autopilot driver-assistance software, Barnhart and other owners said.

Tab Brewer, who says he’s been “shocked” by how good his Rivian is, says he wants it to come with Android Auto, the in-vehicle infotainment software that he says is superior to what the Rivian now offers. Several owners say they’ve seen the Rivian’s software improve over the past few months from over-the-air updates, and they’re hopeful for continued improvements, including the vehicle’s navigation, which many say they don’t use.

The Tesla also has a more robust charging network, which is good for long road trips, owners said. For those who are charging exclusively at home, they say it’s not a problem.

Mike Feehley, who lives outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, says that when he took his new R1T to an antique car show with his son, more people gathered around his truck than at the classic cars.

“Guys were coming in saying it’s the cleanest lines they’ve ever seen on a truck,” Feehley said.

Feehley and other Rivian owners say it’s common to get questions from curious onlookers in parking lots or to have people taking pictures of them driving in their cars.

Rivian also takes a close look at its vehicles. Feehley said the indicator and warning lights on his truck started flashing, and the light flickered. He posted about it on a third-party online forum for Rivian owners and was surprised to get a call from the automaker saying they would find time to pick up the truck and fix it. When Rivian posted a video of the water on her door she said she was reached again.

Some Rivian owners who spoke to CNN Business questioned whether the automaker will be able to maintain service quality and wait times as it scales production. Rivian plans to produce 25,000 vehicles this year, after delivering less than 5,000 vehicles in the second quarter of the year.

Rivian owners describe their trucks as never willing to sell them.

Rivian owners describe being so happy with their vehicles that they have offered opportunities to sell their vehicles immediately after purchase and earn profits of tens of thousands of dollars.

Ross Gale describes himself as a businessman with “very little attachment to any material objects”.

He says he owned dozens of cars during the Covid pandemic and made a lot of money as vehicle prices soared. But he won’t sell his R1T.

As Gale says, “Every time I see one for sale I say to myself, ‘How could someone do this?'”