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Rivian owners can’t help but gush about their trucks, flaws and all

<i>Rivian</i><br/>Rivian owners have generally praised the R1T's features
Rivian owners have generally praised the R1T's features

By Matt McFarland, CNN Business

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

Buying the automaker’s R1T electric pickup was so wonderful that he says he drove 45 minutes to Rivian’s Irvine, California, office to take the Rivian employee who shepherded him through his purchase out for coffee. (Rivian pairs new buyers with a “guide” who answers any questions during the process.)

Wang said he brought a thank you card, and a $100 gift card to REI, knowing that his guide had a trip to South America coming up.

“I felt like I kind of owed it to him,” Wang told CNN Business. “He was really invested in this whole 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 it to Wang so he could receive his truck sooner.

Wang, like many new Rivian owners, praised Rivian’s customer service and the quality of the vehicles.

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

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

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

It’s faced growing pains as it’s launched three vehicles at once — the R1T, the R1S SUV, and a delivery van for Amazon. Deliveries have been delayed. Rivian’s stock has fallen 66% this year as the value of electric vehicle makers has dropped broadly. Rivian laid off 6% of its workers this July.

CNN Business interviewed 13 Rivian owners to hear how satisfied they are with their vehicles, which can cost roughly $100,000, depending on what options are included.

Not all roses

Matt Thomson was nervous to pick up his R1T earlier this year. He’d never even test driven the pickup. He’d waited more than three years for it since placing a deposit, and wondered if it could live up to the hype.

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

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

But it jammed as dirt and gravel had gotten stuck in it, he said.

Many Rivian owners describe similar problems with the feature. Some owners say they’re keeping the feature lubricated with WD-40 or graphite to prevent it from breaking. Some describe avoiding use of the cover or handling it delicately to try to prevent issues.

“As you likely know, there are issues with our powered tonneau cover,” Rivian emailed owners in September. “While most are operating as intended, many are not.”

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

“That was a big flop on their part,” Thomson said. “But if that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen on a brand new car company, I’m going to be okay with that.”

He says his Rivian tows his horse and donkey trailer better than his last vehicle, a 2020 GMC Sierra. Thomson was one of several owners who say it’s so smooth that they almost forget they’re towing something. Thomson said he loves the suspension, which automatically adjusts to stay level while loaded up, rather than leaning awkwardly backward like his old trucks.

“I’ve had BMWs, Lexuses, everything else. Nothing is even remotely comparable to the way this one drives,” Thomson said. “Literally everything about it has just been over the top. I couldn’t be more satisfied than I am.”

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

Measuring up against Tesla

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 0-60 mph in 1.99 seconds, faster than a Lamborghini.

He says he owns stock in Tesla, and was an early owner of Tesla’s breakout vehicle, the 2012 Model S, which put the automaker on the map and was the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

But these days Barnhart finds himself 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 chauffeurs three kids, their friends, sporting equipment and the family dog, in what’s essentially a mid-size pickup on par with a Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger.

He was one of several owners who spoke highly of Rivian’s “gear tunnel,” an extra storage compartment that’s located behind the R1T’s second row. They say it’s well suited to stowing things like sports equipment or food. The gear tunnel’s door also doubles as a convenient seat for when putting on or taking off shoes, they say.

Barnhart was one of several Rivian owners who said they were pleased with how accurately Rivian estimates its vehicles range.

“The Tesla range estimate is very aspirational,” Barnhart said. “The Rivian range estimate is actually informative.”

Barnhart believes Rivian’s first vehicle, the R1T, is clearly better than Tesla’s first wide-release vehicle, the 2012 Tesla Model S, that he owned. But Rivian’s software can’t compare with what Tesla offers today, including its driver-assist software Autopilot, Barnhart and other owners said.

Tab Brewer, who says he’s been “blown away” by how good his Rivian is, says he wishes it came with Android Auto, in-vehicle infotainment software that he says is superior to what Rivian is offering now. Several owners say they’ve seen Rivian’s software improve from over-the-air updates in recent months, and are hopeful for continued upgrades, including the vehicle’s navigation, which many say they don’t use.

Tesla also has a more robust charging network that’s suited to long road trips, owners said. For those who are charging exclusively at home, they say it’s not an issue.

All eyes on Rivian

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

“Guys were coming up saying these are 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 in cars driving alongside them taking pictures.

Rivian too is keeping a close eye on its vehicles. Feehley said the indicator and warning lights started flashing on his truck, and the power flickered. He posted about it on a third-party online forum for Rivian owners and was surprised to get a call from the automaker telling him they’d find a time to pick up the truck and get it fixed. He said Rivian reached out to him again when he posted a video of water in his door.

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

Rivian owners describe being so satisfied with their vehicles that they’ve passed on opportunities to sell their vehicles immediately after purchase and earn a profit of tens of thousands of dollars.

Ross Gale describes himself as a business guy with “very little attachment to any material object.”

He says he’s owned dozens of cars and flipped many for profit during the Covid pandemic as vehicle prices soared. But he won’t be selling his R1T.

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

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