Sleek slate-blue vans gliding almost noiselessly along suburban streets are the new hallmark of Amazon’s holiday deliveries in 2022. With a purpose-built friendly-looking front end and zero-emissions, quiet-running electric motors, the vans are designed to be a pleasant presence in neighborhoods.
These electric delivery vans, or EDVs, carry Amazon colors and badging. However, Rivian, the EV startup making the powerful and feature-rich R1T electric pickup truck and R1S EV SUV is the vehicles’ actual maker despite the Amazon nameplate.
Rivian has plenty of challenges ahead on its road to becoming a real competitor to Tesla. These include bedbugs infesting its forklifts at its Normal, Illinois assembly facility. But the sale of commercial EV vans could help it get over the financial, technical, and arthropod hurdles to the full bloom of profitable success as a solidly established EV automaker.
What Rivian’s EDV Vans Are
Rivian’s distinctive-looking delivery vans are built on its unique RCV (Rivian Commercial Van) platform. The company’s engineers designed the platform from the ground up for maximum hauling efficiency. The resulting commercial van is somewhat modular and can be built to meet specific customer needs.
For example, customers can choose whether to focus on compact maneuverability or cargo space. Rivian can build the vans to carry anywhere from 500 cubic feet to 700 cubic feet of cargo.
The models are known as the EDV500 and EDV700. Further customization is also possible according to the company’s Fleet website page. Payload weights range from 1,960 lbs to 2,750 lbs depending on the exact build.
Rivian outfits the interior to be ergonomic and convenient for the driver. It’s also set up to be comfortable, a feature intended to reduce fatigue during a long day of deliveries.
The van can maneuver in cramped quarters with an approximate 55-foot curb-to-curb turning radius. Rivian’s engineers included double-wishbone front suspension to make this possible.
Some standard EVs wear out motors and batteries faster with frequent stops and starts. Rivian engineered its EV commercial van’s motors to handle the constant stops of a delivery vehicle without problems or material fatigue.
The drivetrain features regenerative braking to help conserve battery range by using slowing down to recharge. The vehicle’s designers used 150 kW charging architecture for fast charging, and the battery gives up 150 miles of range.
The vehicle’s whole architecture is built for simplicity, durability, and a long lifespan. The automaker intends for this to reduce the number of repairs needed while extending the van’s total service life. Longevity is expected to be 10 years or 330,000 miles.
Support for Rivian’s Commercial EV Van
Rivian provides support and maintenance for commercial van operators in addition to the vehicles themselves. Its software platform, FleetOS, gives business customers a unified command and control interface for their whole fleet.
Telematics track the vehicles and collect data in real-time. This means users can coordinate their vehicles and ensure the routes are optimized for maximum speed and efficiency in getting goods to customers.
Rivian uses remote troubleshooting to figure out the cause of problems without bringing the vehicle to a service center. In many cases, this allows for the fixing of a minor glitch without the need to take the EV van out of service for long.
On-call mobile technicians travel to the site of moderately difficult problems to get the vans up and running again. The company’s service centers are also available for serious issues. It is currently in the process of adding many more service centers to those already operating.
Commercial customers can probably benefit from tax breaks provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, too. The vehicle isn’t big enough to qualify for the up to $40,000 tax deduction trailer trucks and other giant commercial machines offer.
But the 2022 climate bill offers up to $7,500 in tax incentives per vehicle for commercial EVs weighing under 14,000 lbs. Rivian assembles the van in the USA. Additionally, corporate buyers can meet tax credit qualifications for a commercial much easier than passenger EV eligibility.
How They’re Being Used
Amazon deployed approximately 1,000 Rivian EDVs by mid-November 2022. It continued rolling out the vans after that and expects to have “several thousand” in operation by the start of 2023.
The online retailer put the first vans on the road in July 2022 in a handful of major cities. It added more than a dozen metropolitan areas to the EDV’s delivery routes by early November.
Company executives state the EV vans had already hauled 5 million packages to their destinations by early November. Amazon helped Rivian get off the ground initially with a $700 million investment back in 2019.
At the time, Rivian agreed to produce 100,000 EDVs for the retailer. Jeff Bezos himself said initially the full fleet of 100,000 would be deployed by 2024. Reality has set in since then, with a 2030 date set for the 100,000th EDV to enter Amazon service.
What Drivers Think of the EDV
Rivian’s EDV contains some pretty luxurious features for a commercial delivery vehicle. While there is an A-pillar camera to monitor driver attention, the interior is also fairly plush. The driver enjoys the use of a heated and ventilated seat to offer comfort in different seasons.
The steering wheel is also heated to prevent frozen winter fingers. The driver has access to a first aid kit. The door in the bulkhead separating the cab from the cargo closes automatically when the outer doors lock, saving time.
Drivers apparently enjoy piloting the relatively few EDVs currently on the nation’s roads. GeekWire quotes an unnamed delivery driver who described the Rivian electric van as resembling a “spaceship,” adding, “I love it.”
Another driver recorded a YouTube video describing his EDV driving experience, according to InsideEVs. The driver, using the YouTube handle Friday Adventure Club, had experience with earlier, ICE-powered delivery vans.
The automatically opening and closing bulkhead door pleased the reviewer, as did the convenient shelves in the cargo area. The 360-degree camera made maneuvering and parking easier, and the layout saved time and effort during delivery.
Rivian’s European Van Plans and the Future
While Amazon’s drivers enjoy using Rivian’s EDV electric vans, the company’s plans recently hit a speed bump in Europe. Rivian and Mercedes-Benz shook hands on a partnership in early September 2022 to build two different models of electric vans.
The companies’ combined press release said they would build the vans at an existing Mercedes factory. The Rivian Light Vans (RLVs) and Mercedes electric vans would be sold in Europe, giving Rivian a whole new market to compete in.
Just three months later, the would-be partners ditched the partnership in early December 2022. As The Street reported, Rivian said it’s pausing its plans for electric vans in Europe. Instead, it intends to focus on consumer sales of the R1S and R1T, plus its existing commercial van orders.
Investors on the stock market bid Rivian’s share prices up 11% when it first announced the deal. After the partnership fell through, its stock prices fell again. The slump continues a downward trend that’s been ongoing almost since its initial public offering (IPO) in late 2021.
While stock market performance doesn’t directly change Rivian’s ability to make and sell good EVs, too much downside could make it harder for the company to borrow money to fund its operations through the difficult early years.
Rivian describes the change as a “pause” in its plans. However, Mercedes says it will move ahead with its electrification strategy anyway. It seems unlikely Rivian will renew this exact alliance in the future, though it may find another European partner eventually.
Can the Vans Still Help Pay for Rivian’s Business?
Up until Rivian broke off its prospective partnership with Mercedes, its electric delivery vans looked likely to stabilize its finances. Rivian still can’t generate an overall profit on its passenger vehicles, despite their excellence and positive consumer reception.
It lost $1.72 billion during 2022’s third quarter (Q3), despite building 7,363 EVs. Rivian’s production soared 67% quarter-over-quarter from Q2, earning it $536 million, but it’s still in the red. In fact, its cash burn is rising sharply as it tries to reach its full-year 2022 25,000-vehicle manufacturing goal.
Operating at a loss for a while is normal for a recently launched business. But Rivian losing the Mercedes deal deprives it of a major expected near-future revenue source.
If it had released the two vans in Europe, it would have established a foothold in a big new market. Mercedes would also have paid for a lot of the materials and production, seemingly easing Rivian’s cash burn.
The company also faces soaring materials costs. Russia’s attack on Ukraine gut-punched the supply chain for lithium, cobalt, and nickel used by EV automakers in lithium-ion batteries.
A late June 2022 AlixPartners study shows EV raw materials costs skyrocketed 144% between March 2020 and May 2022. Companies paid $3,381 for a single EV’s materials in 2020 and $8,255 on average in 2022, per the research.
How Rivian’s decision to cancel European van production affects it still has to play out. The company still has its Amazon delivery van contract to fill, and so far Jeff Bezos’ retail giant seems to be a satisfied customer.
Rivian also has 114,000 orders for R1T pickups and R1S SUVs still to fill, so it isn’t lacking for future consumer sales. It still seems well-placed to be an ongoing player in America’s higher-end, high-quality EV market going into 2023.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©mark reinstein/Shutterstock.com.