The Los Angeles Auto Show came and went with much fanfare. New products gushed from the show floor, with journalists clamoring for a close-up with several new models. With the show lights dimming and focus now setting on Detroit, there’s one reveal still exciting the masses—the Rivian R1T—an all-new electric pickup truck. Initial excitement certainly makes it appear there’s a market for such a vehicle, just as Tesla has proven some sedans aren’t dead yet. As cool as the Rivian R1T is, how practical is it and how significant is the demand for such a vehicle? Those will be crucial questions going forward as Rivian takes the R1T from concept to production, and General Motors will watch developments closely.
Gauging interest in an electric pickup truck is difficult, especially for a newcomer like the Rivian R1T. Pickup truck buyers tend to be brand loyal, often buy the same make and model again and again and again, even if the auto critics don’t like it very much.
This raises a question: should General Motors pursue developing a similar vehicle? The Rivian R1T appears to be the exact kind of product GM says it wants to build. Sedan sales are abysmal, forcing the company to propose a $6 billion restructuring that’s supposed to focus on electric vehicles, autonomous technologies, and hot-selling models like trucks.
On the surface, the Rivian R1T doesn’t look atypical. It has a bed in the back and seating for five adults. It seems more Honda Ridgeline than Chevy Silverado. However, it does have a few distinct features. The truck has a watertight cover for the bed, a large front trunk, and a unique—dare we say ingenious—gear tunnel that sits between the truck bed and passenger compartment. The R1T isn’t your typical truck. The Michigan-based automaker created its own class of vehicles—the Electric Adventure Vehicle—and that makes a GM equivalent a possibility.
The last thing GM wants to do is dilute its truck brand with whimsical experimentations. Instead, the automaker should focus on bridging trucks and our inventible electrified future with a versatile pickup truck designed for those adventurous millennials who post incessant hiking photos on Instagram. There’s no need to make an all-electric Silverado just yet. Instead, develop and produce a smaller, EV-based pickup as a proof of concept. Once customers get a taste of such a vehicle, then you can distill that technology into other trucks in the lineup.
While Rivian has the limelight, GM has a century of automotive production under its belt. If GM wants a $6 billion restructuring that calls for layoffs, plant closures, and model discontinuations, citing EVs and trucks as the future, then an EV truck makes the most sense—unless, of course, the automaker is only tangentially making an EV effort to appease federal regulations and media scrutiny.