Rivian's Real Edge

James Temple, writing for MIT Technology Review in The Rivian pickup’s real edge over Tesla’s Cybertruck isn’t its battery, emphasis mine:

“[Rivian’s] vehicles, as well as Amazon’s and Ford’s, will all be built upon [Rivian’s] so-called ‘skateboard’ chassis. It packages together the battery, suspension, braking system, and mechanical components all below the height of the wheels ... By providing such a platform technology, Rivian is positioning itself as a sort of Microsoft to Tesla’s Apple — hoping it can capture a larger share of the market.”

I have written little about electric vehicles. In general, the present state of battery technology makes them unsuitable for backcountry expeditions. More specifically, Bollinger’s high price tag precludes its vehicles from going mainstream, Rivian played it safe with an old design revamped for fancy aspirational campers, and while Tesla did something interesting, the Cybertruck cannot do truck things. I look forward to the day these become viable backcountry adventure platforms, but that day has not yet come. The two passages above, though, reminded me of something Matt Stoller said in What Is a Billionaire?:

“Gates didn’t at first think operating systems were that important, and he wanted to use the OS to sell programming languages. But soon he realized that the operating system was a key on-ramp to the personal computer, a tollbooth or chokepoint for all other software. ... He built a licensing regime that charged personal computer makers a fee for installing his operating system. More importantly, his licensing regime effectively required computer makers to pay a fee if they installed a rival operating system. Through a coercive partnership with computer makers, Gates imposed a tax on the entire industry, including his competitors, much as Rockefeller had using his relationship with railroads.”

Rivian has positioned itself to become a similar key on-ramp, except to electric vehicles — first for Amazon and Ford, but perhaps more in the future. From the outside looking in, it seems the company has the flexibility to become an electric vehicle-enabling behemoth, and the price; whether it can grow to, and operate at, that scale, though, remains to be seen. If Rivian can do this, and do it better than its competitors long enough to beat them out, it could find itself in the same powerful and lucrative position Bill Gates put Microsoft in years ago. Rivian’s enthusiasm for its truck and SUV, the R1T and R1S, make me hesitant to say it will go this route. As we have seen, though, priorities change and fortunes are made. The company has a long road ahead of it, but the possible upside if it chooses this course is enormous.