Picture: Rivian.
Picture: Rivian.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.
Picture: Paul Sancya / AP Photo.

Detroit - In a renovated old cash register factory in suburban Detroit, 300 engineers are toiling away on an all-electric pickup truck and an SUV that they hope will take the electric vehicle market by storm, and beat Tesla at its own game in the process.

All of them work for Rivian, which has just unveiled its innovative and fascinating new electric bakkie ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, with the SUV expected to be shown shortly.

Set to go on sale Stateside in late 2020, the R1T pickup has an electric motor on each wheel - something that should prove particularly handy when tackling off-road trails - and it's said to be capable of rushing from 0-60mph (96km/h) in just three seconds, putting it squarely in supercar territory.

Under easier throttle loads, however, the battery-powered pickup has a claimed range of more than 644km on a single charge.

The double cab seats five occupants and also has an innovative retractable bed cover as well as a frontal boot (or 'frunk') where the engine would normally have been. 

Other novelties include a fully digital dashboard, a 'gear tunnel' for storage between the rear seats and rear wheels, a flexible crossbar system for securing items above the load bed, and three 110V outlets for your tools.

The vehicle also has an 800kg payload and 5000kg towing capacity, according to Rivian.

Furthermore, it will offer Level 3 autonomous driving capability (eyes and hands free) on highway routes. 

It's not going to come cheap though.

While pricing has yet to be finalised, the company's 35-year-old CEO RJ Scaringe says the basic version with a 370km range should start at under $70 000 (R970 000), while the aforementioned longer range flagship is likely to sell for $90 000 (R1.25m).

Long road to fruition

The small startup still has a long way to go before it can start selling vehicles, however, even though it claims to have $500 million in funding. It has to develop a sales and service network, announce a battery cell supplier and start producing vehicles in the former Mitsubishi plant that it owns in Normal, Illinois.

Rivian is among a growing line of startups and established car companies looking to enter the fully electric vehicle market.

The influx of vehicles that run solely on batteries almost certainly will pull buyers from the current leader, Tesla, which likely will deliver over 300 000 vehicles worldwide this year.

Michael Ramsey, senior analyst for Gartner, says Tesla "will unquestionably lose market share as more competitors come in."

What is unknown, though, is whether the demand for electric vehicles will rise enough so that there's room for everybody. 

Currently the market is tiny. In the US, electric vehicles only amounted to 0.8 percent of new vehicle registrations through August this year, according to data from IHS Markit. But that's substantially more than the 0.5 percent at the same time in 2017. 

Globally, Navigant Research predicts huge growth in the next seven years, from just over 1 million sales this year to 6.5 million by 2025.

As competition ramps up, prices are gradually coming down, edging closer to cars with internal combustion engines. At the same time, electric range is on the rise.

IOL & AP