Rivian’s R1 vehicles are getting a gut overhaul — here’s what’s new


On the surface, the second generation Rivian R1 vehicles look basically the same as the first: same rugged-yet-aerodynamic shape, same friendly oval headlight shapes, same quirky features, like flashlights in the door frame. 

But underneath the surface, the company insists that everything has changed. 

Over the past two and a half years, the company’s engineering team took on an enormous task, codenamed “Peregrine,” to fundamentally alter the DNA of Rivian’s R1T truck and R1S SUV. It’s not that the EVs were getting dusty, having only launched in 2021. But with demand for plug-in cars wobbling and Rivian desperately searching for new ways to appeal to customers with only a two-model lineup, Project Peregrine took on new urgency. 

“We’re completely reengineering the guts of the vehicle,” Wassym Bensaid, Rivian’s head of software, told The Verge. “And that opens up lots of possibilities.”

First and foremost, Rivian is swapping its domain-based architecture with a new “zonal” system that in the auto industry is only otherwise employed by Tesla. That means fewer electronic control units (ECUs), less wiring, and most importantly, less production cost. After all, a less expensive manufacturing process is vital to Rivian’s survival. The company is losing more money than ever — $1.4 billion in the first quarter alone — and its future absolutely depends on slashing production costs. 

“We’re completely reengineering the guts of the vehicle”

The EVs are also getting major software upgrades, including stunning new visuals powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine that look more like paintings than CGI. Newly redesigned motors enable a performance bump for dual- and quad-motor variants. And Rivian is adding a slew of useful new hardware, including a thermal heat pump for improved battery maintenance, new aerodynamic tires, and a smarter driver-assist system. 

In a series of interviews last month, Rivian’s top executives insisted that this isn’t your typical mid-cycle refresh that is all too common in the auto industry. Instead, this should be thought of as a blank-slate, top-to-bottom reimagining of the company’s flagship EVs — with an eye toward streamlining its processes for the coming R2 and R3 vehicles. 

“Essentially, everything beneath the surface has changed,” Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe said in a recent interview. 

In the zone

Rivian’s new zonal architecture
Image: Rivian

Some of the updates, like the newly aggressive quad-motor R1T, will no doubt get most of the attention — and for good reason. (0–60mph in 2.5 seconds!) But Rivian’s switch from domain to zonal network architecture is arguably the most significant change. 

Rivian’s first-gen R1 platform relied on a domain architecture, in which over a dozen ECUs — small devices that control and monitor various systems, like airbags to braking to parking assistance — were spread throughout the vehicle. Switching to a zonal architecture allowed Rivian to reduce a massive amount of wiring, removing over 1.6 miles (2.6km) of it, and replace distributed ECUs with embedded functionality, software, and hardware with pure software functions.

A less expensive manufacturing process is vital to Rivian’s survival

But Scaringe knew the team had to start with a domain network if they were ever going to get to a zonal one. After all, there were more pressing concerns at the time, like updating the old Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois, into an ultramodern facility exclusively for electric vehicles. 

The ECU count, Gen 1 vs. Gen 2
Image: Rivian

Instead of negotiating new software deals with a variety of suppliers, Rivian made the early decision to design its own ECUs in-house. It didn’t make the task of consolidating their number any easier, Scaringe said, but it certainly made it less complex. With its new zonal architecture, Rivian has reduced the total number of ECUs to seven, from the 17 that made up its first-gen R1’s domain-based system.

The result will be smoother over-the-air software updates but also “thousands” in cost savings per vehicle, Scaringe said. And most importantly, customers will notice a huge difference in software enhancement and performance — which hopefully then results in improved sales. 

“There’s nothing really close to it,” Scaringe said. “You know, I’d say Tesla and us are the only two companies that are doing truly zonal-based architecture.”

Quad goals

Rivian’s new electric drive motor
Image: Rivian

For its first-generation quad-motor vehicles, Rivian sourced its drive-units from German auto supply giant Bosch. But last year, the company began making its own Enduro drive-units for its dual-motor vehicle in the hopes that the company could rein in its costs.

Now, those in-house designed parts — inverter and gearbox, as well as a rotor stator assembly from a supplier — are being used for an all-new quad-motor R1 platform. And the performance improvements are jaw-dropping. 

Launch Mode
Image: Rivian

The new quad-motor R1T and R1S will generate 1,025 horsepower and 1,198 lb-ft of torque, up from 835hp and 908lb-ft for the first-gen quad-motor R1s. It will accelerate from 0–60mph in just 2.5 seconds and can sprint a quarter-mile in 10.5 seconds. That’s faster than the top supercars from the UK, Germany, and Italy, Scaringe said. 

“There’s a pickup truck or seven passenger SUV that can outrun in the quarter mile a Ferrari Enzo, a McLaren F1, or a Porsche 911 GT3 RS,” he boasted. 

Energized

The battery pack, laying flat
Image: Rivian

That’s all fine for the speed junkies. But for those concerned with more quotidian matters, Rivian has also redesigned its Large and Max battery packs for better range. The company estimates that its second-gen R1 vehicles will get up to 420 miles in EPA-estimated range, a modest increase over the first-gen maximum range of 410 miles. New 22-inch aero wheels will also help reduce drag and maximize range.  

Rivian is offering a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery option for the first time, with an estimated range of 270 miles. LFP batteries are typically cheaper to manufacture than high-nickel batteries and have a longer life cycle, meaning they can withstand more charges before they start to degrade. The LFP battery will contain 92.5 kilowatt-hours of energy, as compared to the first-gen R1’s default non-LFP battery with 105.9kWh. 

Rivian is offering an LFP battery option for the first time

Meanwhile, Rivian’s high-nickel battery packs have undergone an overhaul to remove “thousands of dollars of cost,” Scaringe said. The company is using a high-pressure die casting system to improve the pack’s structural integrity by consolidating a lot of the parts. “It’s structurally more robust,” he said. 

That more robust battery pack is also getting a brand-new thermal management system in the form of a heat pump. The first-gen R1T and R1S use resistive heating, which passes electric charge through a wire coil to generate heat. In contrast, heat pumps draw heat from the outside and compress it, which has little effect on the vehicle’s range. 

Heat pumps can also more efficiently heat up a battery during cold weather season, which helps prime the battery for charging while also helping prevent annoyances like “phantom drain,” in which an EV battery loses charge during winter, even when it’s not in use. These are major concerns for EV owners and could help Rivian better compete with automakers like Tesla, Ford, and Hyundai who saw the advantage of heat pumps early on. 

Most importantly, the revamped R1 battery pack is a sign of what’s to come with Rivian’s R2 vehicle, which is smaller and more affordable than its predecessor. R2 will also use high-pressure die castings, heat pumps, and other innovations to help reduce costs and improve efficiency, Scaringe said. The format will change — R1 uses a double-stacked 2170 battery, while the R2 features a new 4695 cylindrical battery cells — but the methodologies and management are more aligned. 

Going hands-free

Rivian has never been seen as a leader in the race for autonomy. Its Driver Plus system has a lot of fans, sure, but the company is rarely mentioned in the same conversation as Tesla and others when it comes to self-driving. 

That could change with the second-generation R1 compute system, which is getting a significant power-up. Rivian is installing Nvidia’s AI chips in its vehicles for the first time, which should improve processing speeds. And Scaringe says that the company’s Autonomy Platform will eventually enable hands-free driving, much like other automakers like Ford and GM.

Rivian has never been seen as a leader in the race for autonomy

And while the number of sensors used to power the driver-assist system isn’t changing much — 11 cameras, up from 10; same number of radar (five) and ultrasonic (12) — camera fidelity has vastly improved, and processing power of the internal computer is “10 times” more powerful than the previous generation. 

According to Bensaid, Rivian’s software chief, the company is now using surround-view cameras with three times the resolution, running at 60 frames per second, and with much better low-light performance and color quality. They’re also swapping the previous-generation radars for imaging radars with better accuracy and an overall more comprehensive view of the surrounding environment. 

In terms of improved capabilities, Rivian’s Driver Plus system will now enable enhanced blind spot detection and automatic lane changing, and the company hopes to offer hands-free driving by the end of the year. 

“It gives us fantastic headroom,” Bensaid said, “so that we really now have the platform that will enable much better autonomy capabilities and the future.” 

Screen grab

Rivian’s infotainment is powered by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, and the graphics are predictably pretty sick. But now Rivian is taking the game engine to a new level by employing a new illustration-based redesign that gives its user interface a playfully artistic feel. While Tesla gets a lot of credit for bringing gaming style computer graphics inside the car, Rivian may be the first company to make the experience actually beautiful. 

“With the extra compute that we have, with the extra memory that we have, we can now really put the Unreal Engine to its best in the vehicle,” Bensaid said. 

Digital keys, with which Rivian owners can lock, unlock, and start their vehicles using their phones or smartwatches, are now available with this second-generation platform. The system is compatible with iPhones, Apple Watches, and select Google Pixel devices.

Rivian famously does not allow phone projection, which means popular features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto do not work in its vehicles. The same goes for the second-generation R1 vehicles, but the company is adding a few new features to help make up for the restriction. The company already announced partnerships that will allow vehicle owners to watch YouTube or project video on their central display using Google Cast. And now it’s also working with Apple to “deeply integrate” Apple Music into the R1’s software. Listening to your favorite tracks is likely to get more immersive, too, thanks to the inclusion of Dolby Atmos.

Price check

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe
Image: Getty

The prices for both R1 vehicles will remain basically unchanged. The second-generation R1S will start at $75,900, while the R1T starts at $69,900. Deliveries begin immediately. Any cost savings Rivian is getting from improved manufacturing techniques or fewer parts won’t be passed down to the customer — at least not yet. 

“Our long-term success as a business requires us to be profitable,” Scaringe said. “And so we’ve been very focused on our path to healthy positive gross margins.”

In that light, the company expects toearn more revenue off each individual vehicle sale. And it has said that it expects “modest gross profits” by the end of 2024. But that doesn’t mean Rivian will be profitable in the traditional sense. 

“Our long-term success as a business requires us to be profitable”

The new Rivians also arrive at a time when customers are getting pickier and more price sensitive about electric vehicles. The company’s sales are up, but its losses are increasing. Meanwhile, other automakers are laying off employees, canceling factory plans, or delaying plug-in models. There’s a lot of uncertainty — but also a lot of opportunity. 

If Rivian wants to be more stable, the R1 will need help. That’s where the R2 comes in, the smaller, more affordable Rivian that starts at $45,000. And this update to the R1 platform is helping set the stage for the R2’s production kickoff in 2026. 

“We want to make this the best version of the vehicle it can be,” Scaringe said. “It’s our flagship, the R1T and R1S. And so they need to continue to be leaders in terms of their attributes and features.”

Scaringe bemoans the lack of foresight by others in the auto industry. But while some perceive Rivian’s laser focus on battery-electric vehicles to be a drawback — after all, hybrids are selling at much higher rates than EVs — the CEO sees it as a secret advantage. 

“While I think it’s bad for the world that there’s going to be less choice and you have a lot of OEMs that have dramatically pulled back on the electrification efforts,” Scaringe said, “I do think it creates more of a need for pure-play mission-oriented electric vehicle manufacturers to exist.”



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top