The Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian R1T are igniting a brave new world of electric pickup trucks, while sparking a rivalry to outdo each other in this soon-to-be booming market.
- Rivian is an electric truck company headquartered 25 miles west of Detroit in Plymouth, Michigan.
- Tesla Motors is based in Palo Alto, California, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley.
- Sales of the Rivian R1T pickup (and R1S sport-utility) are expected to begin later this year.
- Last year, Tesla sales exceeded more than 360,000 vehicles globally.
The opening salvos in the electric pickup truck wars have begun, and two relative outliers in the automotive world are leading the charge. Of the two, Tesla Motors is much better known and remains a darling of well-heeled early tech adopters. Starting more than a decade ago with only the no-frills Roadster to its credit, Tesla’s lineup of vehicles now includes the Model S and Model 3 sedans, along with the Model X crossover. Coming soon is the Model Y, a smaller crossover vehicle based on the Model 3 platform, along with the highly anticipated and wildly-futuristic Cybertruck. Shown for the first time last November, production of the Cybertruck is planned for late-2021.
Rivian, on the other hand, remains mostly unknown and entirely untested when it comes to production models. Based just west of Detroit and with a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois, set to serve as its production hub, the company has quietly been in business since 2009. However, Rivian only shot to the public’s attention during the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, when it revealed the R1S sport-utility and R1T pickup truck. While production of the two trucks begins later this year, Rivian has already received billions of dollars worth of investment from the likes of Amazon, Ford Motor Company, and mutual fund company T. Rowe Price.
So, how do these two electric pickup trucks stack up against each other?
While the team at Ride.Tech can’t wait to physically put the R1T and Cybertruck in a head-to-head comparison, that goal remains at least one to two years down the line. For now, we wanted to compare how each electric truck fares in five specific categories: Price, Driving Range, Performance, Features, and Design. The last of these is the most subjective, since it includes an element of “style points” in the decision process.
On paper – or on your smartphone screen – which electric pickup holds the early edge? Keep reading to find out.
The Tesla Cybertruck starts at $39,900 and has a range of 250 miles. (Photo: Tesla)
Money talks, especially when there is a yawning chasm of $30,000 dollars separating our two electric pickup trucks. The base version of the 2021 Tesla Cybertruck is expected to start at just under $40,000. Granted, this model has the least amount of range and comes in rear-wheel drive format.
Still, to get behind the wheel of a Rivian R1T, you’ll have to pay nearly $70,000. Similar to the Cybertruck, the entry-level R1T has more limited range, though all-wheel drive is standard across the Rivian lineup. But when you factor the range-topping Cybertruck has the same price ($69,900) as the base Rivian R1T, the win here goes to Tesla.
The range-topping version of the Cybetruck promises to have 500 miles of range. (Photo: Tesla)
Once again, when you go purely by hard numbers it’s simple to choose a winner. We already discussed how the range-topping version of the Tesla Cybertruck is priced at the same level as the base Rivian R1T. For that outlay of approximately $70,000, you get 500 miles of driving range in the Cybertruck, or 230 miles of range in the R1T.
Granted, top performance versions of the R1T are expected to deliver about 400 miles of total driving range. Though prices for these variants could likely breech $100,000 per copy. Score another win in the Tesla Cybertruck column.
The Rivian R1T and R1S sport-utility, pictured here, both use a skateboard-style chassis to house their battery packs and electric motors. (Photo: Rivian)
Without having the chance to take each electric truck for a spin, things get more speculative when talking about performance. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, hyped up the Cybertruck by saying it would have truck-like capabilities with performance to rival a Porsche sports car. In a straight-line battle, the Cybertruck backs up those boasts, thanks to a 0-60 mph time estimated (by Tesla) at 2.9 seconds. As we pointed out in an earlier story, this would make the Tesla Cybertruck the fastest production pickup of all time, period. This stunning acceleration figure applies to the top performance model, fitted with a three-motor all-wheel drive system.
But hold on a minute, because the Rivian R1T is no performance slouch. Again, we’re forced to go with a manufacturer’s claim, not our own stopwatches. Yet, if we believe Tesla clocked the most powerful Cybertruck at 2.9 seconds, there’s no reason to disbelieve Rivian’s estimate that the R1T needs only 3.0 seconds flat for the same zero to 60 mph sprint. For the moment, it’s impossible to know how each truck rides and handles in day-to-day driving. But when it comes to pure acceleration, these electric trucks are as close as two vehicles can get.
Except let’s not forget that many truck buyers like to use their vehicles for towing. In this regard, the Tesla once again takes the lead. When properly equipped, the Cybertruck has a maximum towing capacity of 14,000 pounds, compared to 11,000 pound in the R1T. It’s a close battle, but Tesla scores another victory.
The Rivian Camping Kitchen is expected to be an add-on feature once the R1T enters production later this year. (Photo: Rivian)
It’s not everyday that your truck is capable of cooking you a hot meal. We know that Tesla fans will want to talk about self-driving capabilities of the upcoming Cybertruck. Rivian also promises its vehicles will have some degree of Level 3 autonomous driving aids – though Tesla Motors has been the biggest proponent of these systems across its entire range of vehicles. When it comes to more typical truck gear, however, the Rivian R1T has the edge.
When not full of optional kitchen gear, the Rivian R1T’s Gear Tunnel offers more than 12 cubic feet of hidden cargo room. (Photo: Rivian)
One particularly clever touch in the R1T is the “Gear Tunnel,” a cargo area located between the passenger cabin and cargo bed. Accessed via panels on either side of the truck, there is 12.3 cubic feet of secretive cargo space available. The panels themselves double as steps, to help you reach the roof or the pickup bed. They also serve as handy seats, for those times when you need to take off muddy hiking boots, for example. Better still, the Rivian Camping Kitchen inserts a working stove and sink into this same space. The entire apparatus slides out from side of the truck and, according to Rivian, the feature will be optional on production models.
If you’re feeling bashful, the outrageous Tesla Cybertruck is probably not for you. (Photo: Tesla)
This is the most controversial category, since many people will love (or hate!) the exterior design of both the Cybertruck and R1T. Of the two, the hands-down winner for sparking controversy is the Tesla. The angular design has more in common with a stealth fighter-jet than it does a traditional pickup truck. For anyone who never considered themselves a truck buyer, this could be perfect. Expect every Starbuck’s parking lot in Silicon Valley to be clogged full of newbie pickup drivers once the Cybertruck reaches dealerships in 2021.
The Rivian R1T has much more traditional truck design cues, at least compared to the Tesla Cybertruck. (Photo: Rivian)
On the other hand, the R1T manages to stand out in a crowd, but doesn’t come anywhere close to rewriting the pickup truck rulebook like Tesla chose to do. Each truck has a four-door cab, though the R1T’s upright lines and blunt front and rear end give it the look of a true off-road machine. By comparison, the Cybertruck looks like the offspring of a supercar and flying saucer.
Where does this leave us? If we call it a tie when it comes to Styling, the Tesla Cybertruck still scored wins in categories related to Price, Driving Range, and Performance – at least once we factored in its superior towing capacity. The Rivian R1T does have plenty of clever gear and unique cargo features, not to mention nearly the same impressive straight-line speed as the Cybertruck. It doesn’t hurt that the R1T looks more like a truck, too.
We’re all for having a wild and crazy time, though truck buyers are often fairly conservative and can be fiercely brand loyal. By taking a massive risk with the Cybertruck’s exterior design, Tesla might have handed a big win to Rivian, despite holding an edge in a number of key categories.
Editor’s Disclaimer: Cox Automotive, parent company of Ride by Kelley Blue Book, announced a $350 million partnership with Rivian in September 2019.