A prototype Rivian SUV played a cameo role in today’s launch of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and three other astronauts into space.
The R1S is one of several battery-electric SUV and pickup prototypes used by Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket company at its launch site in Texas, and it “assist(ed) with launch-day transportation,” Rivian spokesperson Tanya Miller confirmed in an e-mail to TheDetroitBureau.com.
While the R1S may have played a secondary role in the events of the day, it was nonetheless a high-profile breakthrough for Rivian, which plans to put its first retail models into production this year. While Bezos’s launch got off on time, Rivian’s plans have been put on temporary hold.
A battery-electric car in the space race
The founder of online retail giant Amazon — and, until July 5, its CEO, Bezos is one of a small group of billionaires launching their own manned rocket companies. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX already serves as a taxi service for NASA astronauts and is planning a mission to Mars. British entrepreneur Richard Branson was one of several passengers on a hybrid Virgin Galactic rocket-plane to reach the edge of space earlier this month.
Bezos’s flight was shorter, but higher — at just 10 minutes, but a peak altitude of 66.5 miles — than Branson’s. Now Amazon’s executive chairman, he was joined by brother Mark Bezos, as well as Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, and teenager Oliver Daemen, lifting off from a Texas launch pad atop Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. They eventually reached an altitude of just over 66 miles during their 10 minutes in space. At 82, Funk became the oldest person ever to earn astronaut wings, with 18-year-old Daemen the youngest.
The four, in their spacesuits, squeezed into a Rivian R1S for the drive from Blue Origin’s mission control to the pad where a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket waited for liftoff at 9 a.m. EDT.
More than serendipity
The use of the Rivian SUV wasn’t just serendipitous. Amazon is one of the startup’s biggest investors — as well as a major customer. A handful of all-electric Rivian vans are now being field-tested by Amazon Prime. The delivery service expects to field 100,000 this decade.
The R1S, along with the similarly sized R1T pickup, ride on a skateboard-like platform with batteries and motors mounted under the floorboards. Several different versions of the two models will be offered. The top-end R1S will use a 180 kilowatt-hour battery pack capable of up to 400 miles range per charge. Four electric motors, one driving each wheel, will deliver up to 800 horsepower and will be able to launch the battery-SUV from 0 to 60 in about 3 seconds. Prices will start at around $67,000.
They were supposed to go into production this month, but while the factory is slowly rolling out prototypes, volume production has now been pushed back until at least September, company sources confirmed.
“The cascading impacts of the pandemic have had a compounding effect greater than anyone anticipated,” Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe wrote to customers who have placed orders for the vehicles.
The auto industry, as a whole, has been hammered by the pandemic. The entire North American automotive manufacturing network closed for about two months in spring 2020, creating a huge shortage of not only fully assembled vehicles but automotive parts and components. The situation has grown even worse in recent months due to short supplies of semiconductors. That’s a particularly serious problem for electric vehicles that use even more microchips than conventional vehicles.
Along with the R1S, R1T, and the Amazon delivery van, Rivian is expected to launch a line-up of other products. It is also working with other investors, notably Ford Motor Co. The Detroit automaker had planned to develop a Rivian-based SUV for its Lincoln brand. That project has been scrapped but Ford and Rivian have signaled that they will jointly bring other products to market in the future.