OPINION: Your Rivian Isn’t A Cell Phone

Note from Jose: I want to thank Carter Gibson for writing this article and sending it over to share on RivianTrackr. This is the first guest op-ed we’ve had here on RivianTrackr and if you like it, please let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on Medium.

When I bought my Rivian, I knew that I was buying something new from a new company. My ‘Launch Edition R1T’ would have an “early adopter tax” that I would have to pay in exchange for getting to have my truck sooner. All in all, that trade off has been worth it. Yes, there are some annoying tradeoffs — my truck has had quite a bit of service, for example — but getting the thing I’d been waiting years for early felt awesome.

As the company begins to bring new models to market, the R1, which includes the pickup R1T and SUV R1S, is Rivian’s “handshake with the world.” It’s their flagship model and stunned the auto industry once people got their hands on it. The R1T was MotorTrend’s 2022 truck of the year, it earned the highest satisfaction rating in 2023 from JD Power and Associates, and Car and Driver gave it a 10/10 — with the most critical call out (annoyingly) being the omission of CarPlay (note: I will die on the hill that CarPlay is not that great, @ me)

My experience matched the public consensus. My truck is a quad-motor beast in an army green, limited color (fittingly named ‘Launch Green’). Its name is Rivet, it has a custom license plate, and I love it.

But, last week, my truck and every other Rivian on the road today got a distinguisher many owners weren’t expecting: Gen 1.

Hello Gen 2

While it hasn’t been a secret that Rivian would be refreshing the R1 series (they’ve teasing a refresh for quite some time), I think it’s reasonable for folks to be a bit surprised by just how major the refresh actually is. Following a temporary plant shutdown to retool the production line, Rivian debuted its Gen 2 R1s.

There is also a quad motor option coming some time in 2025 for an undisclosed price to join the Ascent trim alongside the Tri Max.

The latest models improve over Gen 1, which has been on the market for almost three years now, in several areas. Here are the most noticeable changes that Gen 2 brings:

  • Autonomy+ which brings upgraded sensors and cameras to unlock more autonomous driving potential exclusive to Gen 2 (Gen 1 has Driver+, which will continue to be supported and improved; much more on this below)
  • Improved range and efficiency thanks to a density battery pack and…
  • …all motors in-house (Enduro), which replace the Bosch motors
  • Dramatically simpler design, especially with regards to electronics (1.6mi of wiring removed per vehicle, ECUs down from 17 to 7)
  • Improved air suspension and the removal of low speed “chirping”
  • Significantly improved vampire drain thanks to a reworking of how Gear Guard and other systems work
  • Dynamic glass roof which can dim at the press of a button
  • New, Storm Blue color (Ascend-only)
  • Heat pump
  • Improved charging pad with divider
  • Fog lights replaced with turn signals, replacing the turn signal from the stadium lights
  • Updated light bar, which shows charge percent
  • Updated seat design, now with more plaid-y looks
New interior colors for the Ascent trim

A few things are the same or, in some cases, a bit worse:

  • The frunk is slightly smaller to accommodate the heat pump (11.1 cu ft to 9.8 cu ft)
  • Charger port still uses CCS, not NACS
  • Charger port no longer has the charging ring
  • Meridian audio is fully replaced by Rivian’s own solution (Meridian did not come back for the Ascent model as some may have hoped)

If you’re looking to learn even more details, please check out RivianTrackr’s super comprehensive articles: Feature Comparison | Capabilities Comparison

But what about Gen 1?

Gen 1 is still being sold / leased for as long as those vehicles are around, even though they’re no longer being produced. Today, you can go to the R1 Shop and buy one. People who have preordered one can still have their Gen 1 trucks delivered at any moment. That really begs the question, “How should Gen 1 owners feel about this?”

I think that answer is different depending on when you received your vehicle and what kind of R1 you have. Candidly, I think owners who bought a truck in the last 6mo or so have a pretty good reason to not be especially happy right now.

Current owners of the R1 quad motor packages should be feeling the most okay. There is no quad motor option until sometime in 2025 and it’s going to be very pricey. One of the main draws for Rivian was that one-motor-per-wheel feature and it’s still very neat. Moreover, if you have Meridian audio, count your lucky stars. Finally, as Sandy Munro put it, the Launch Edition vehicles are extremely overbuilt and many folks got them for a discounted rate after Rivian honored the original prices post-hike. (That’s the boat I’m in, personally)

Most models of cars get a refresh every year and never receive software updated. But with all the technology in EVs, we’ve come to expect software support for the life of the vehicle. With how quickly tech is evolving, we may want the latest and greatest like we would in a cell phone, but vehicles are not cell phones.

Your vehicle is a durable good meant to be replaced after many, many years. Thinking about your vehicle the same way you think about your cell phone is 1) unhealthy and 2) really expensive. We all have these fancy trucks that we like to show off in the same we like to show off our fancy cell phones, but they’re just not the same. It might take some willpower to not feel less cool or left in the dust, but there’s a lot to appreciate about owning a Launch Edition as well — something no one else will get, ever.

There’s no denying that the blackout package and new Storm Blue color are both hot.

Rivian understands that all of its current customers are “stuck” with Gen 1 and is committed to bringing much of the goodness from Gen 2 into Gen 1, at least as much as they’re able. Most of those future Gen 1 improvements will be software related (like the $14.99 Connect+ subscription that brings more entertainment options), though some new hardware in Gen 2 can be applied to fix some issues in Gen 1. Moreover Rivian is incentivized to not only keep Gen 1 happy (remember that handshake?), but also not fork development across multiple platforms.

All in all, I’m not convinced that the upgrades are worth an extra $20–50k depending on trim and where you’re coming from if you already own a Rivian. We also don’t know what issues the refreshed models will have. While it’s reasonable to hope for way fewer, you never know if the updated vehicles will have their edition of a dash rattle, triangle window wind noise, or suspension chirps.

It’s not that I’m telling you how to feel (your feelings are like, so valid), it’s just that… I’m sorta telling you to not feel too bad about this, especially if you’re a quad-motor owner or owned the vehicle for several years already. But there is one elephant in the room…

Want more details? RivianTrackr has a great article with more comparison points.

About Autonomy+

This is the real kicker for folks, and something I don’t think Rivian handled especially well. Despite a refresh being public knowledge, folks probably didn’t expect that Autonomy+ would replace Driver+ — making Gen 1 significantly inferior to Gen 2 despite Rivian’s promises.

Autonomy+ brings several new features to Gen 2 thanks to upgraded sensors and cameras. With the new array, folks will be able to lane change autonomously, see their blind spot, and more. It’s not clear if any of these new features will make it to Driver+.

Over the years, Rivian has touted its self-driving capabilities, even going so far as to say that there was no reason why their vehicles couldn’t reach Level 3 autonomy and promising as much on the website. Here are some quotes from the media (via Reddit):

“Rivian’s current vehicles will be limited to Level 3 autonomous technology, which means the system can drive itself in certain conditions but a human must take over driving if the system requires it, due to its hardware limitations,” said Scaringe. [TechCrunch]

Rivian is focusing on developing its own system called Driver+, which falls in the hardware-constrained category. It will be limited to SAE Level 3 driving on Rivian’s current vehicles. This is due to hardware limitations which means a human driver must be ready to take over in circumstances the system can’t handle. [The Drive]

Well, that doesn’t seem like the case anymore and the website’s been changed.

Another interesting wrinkle to contribute to dissatisfaction is that Connect+ includes specific upgrades to Autonomy+ as part of the subscription fee, but Gen 1 owners will not get to experience them. Owners of both generations will pay the same $15.99/mo, making it a worse deal for Gen 1. Even though Rivian has promised to keep improving Driver+ over time, this sorta stings.

To Rivian’s credit, one thing that needs to be considered is the environment in which Rivian started production. Back in 2020 there was this little tiny global supply chain issue which greatly restricted all automakers’ access to the parts they needed. Rivian has never come out and said, “We would have preferred this part over the one we ended up buying,” but I imagine that’s the case, specifically for the cameras and sensors. (Remember that Tesla just… fully removed radars for a time period) Rivian was a new player and probably had to make some concessions.

Does that mean there’s no hope for Autonomy+ on Gen 1? Eh, there’s close to no hope. It’s not easy to replace all those sensor, but Rivian did indicate in 2021 that a fully-autonomous capability could be coming for an upcharge:

Rivian’s recently filed Form S-1 prior to its initial public offering (IPO) indicates that the car manufacturer will charge $10,000 for its vehicles’ fully-autonomous capability.

The electric startup’s Driver+ system consists of 11 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, five radars, and a high-precision GPS antenna. Coincidentally (?), its $10k price is exactly the same as rival Tesla’s Full Self Driving system. [CarScoops]

But that was a long time ago, and it’s probably easiest to just assume that Gen 1 won’t be getting those spiffy new Autonomy+ features owners felt they were promised.

This refresh is a great thing for the company overall. It brings down cost-per-vehicles, entices new buyers before the R2 launch, and tees up another model launch in 2025 (Quad Max). It gives the company a lot of momentum and isn’t something to be especially mad about. That said, I do think newer Gen 1 owners have a right to feel miffed, as well as folks whose main reason for buying a Rivian was driverless tech.

But if you have a Gen 1 preorder and haven’t taken your vehicle yet? I would wait. Absolutely.

That R1 handshake is still firm, but it’s reasonable if some people loosened their grip a little after Gen 2 was announced.

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I make typos. I can’t help it and I won’t apologize for it! 😛 But if you find one, I would greatly appreciate you telling me!

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