Rivian's R1T "gimmicks" make so much more sense now

I'll admit, some of what Rivian was promising with the R1T all-electric pickup seemed a bit... gimmicky. Not pointless, nor useless, but enough to make you wonder whether, had the American EV startup opted to leave those features out, could the 2022 R1T have been even more affordable?

The reality is that the R1T has never really claimed to be a "work truck" like the $40k F-150 Lighting Pro will be. It's easy to assume that just because it's a pickup, that means it's automatically destined for a construction site, but the truck market hasn't really been so easily defined for some time now. Whether you like it or not, pickups are mainstream in a way that far exceeds commercial use.

Rivian has absolutely leaned into that idea, and the R1T is all the more charming for it.

Rivian's Camp Speaker is equally playful and useful

When you're driving a huge battery on wheels, you might as well use that for more than just transportation. That's the approach the Camp Speaker takes, a cube-shaped Bluetooth speaker which docks into the space under the front center armrest. There, the R1T's battery keeps it topped up and ready to go.

Pull it out, pair it to your phone, and you've got entertainment out in the wilderness. However, in a suitable "circle of life" way, you can also use the Camp Speaker as a power source for your phone, thanks to a USB-C port (which also serves to recharge it if you're away from your Rivian). Hit a button, meanwhile, and LED lights turn the Camp Speaker into a useful lamp with three levels of brightness.

It's a great example of how Rivian isn't just trying to build a method of getting around, but something that still has value when you reach your destination. The same goes for the Torch Flashlight, a little LED light that slides out of the driver's side door, and which is also kept charged by the truck's battery.

The Camp Kitchen is stowaway genius

James Bond never had a kitchenette that slid out of the side of his Aston Martin, but that's his loss: the R1T's Camp Kitchen option is unexpectedly wonderful. Intended to showcase the Gear Tunnel – the truck-spanning cargo space just behind the cabin – it's an example of a feature gas and diesel pickups simply couldn't accommodate.

Since the R1T doesn't have a driveshaft running the length of the vehicle, it can free up that nook between the cab and the bed for a healthy 11.6 cu-ft of extra storage. Normally it's empty, but cough up the $5,000 for the Camp Kitchen and you can fill it with a pull-out food prep area. Two electric cooktops – powered by the R1T's own batteries – along with a collapsable sink, water tank, and drawers for a matching Snow Peak kitchen set.

The really nice thing is that the Camp Kitchen is modular. You can slide the two units off the mounting plate – it's a fairly standard T-mount bracket – and use them separately; meanwhile, you could also fashion your choice of other accessories for the R1T. Rivian says the Camp Kitchen design was inspired by the sort of DIY things it observed overlanding enthusiasts building for themselves and, in turn, it'll hopefully prompt some hacks for the electric pickup.

Rivian's focus isn't like other truck-makers

It's easy to look at the R1T's $67,500 starting price (pre incentives and fees), contrast it with something like the $40k+ F-150 Lighting, and wonder how Ford can undercut Rivian so considerably. The reality is that, though the Lightning – expected to ship from spring 2022 – may start that low, that trim isn't really the one you'd compare with Rivian's truck.

Part of Ford's strength, of course, is that it can span the whole truck market. Workhorse pickups with long beds and single cabs at one end, running through to plush Platinum trims at the other end. We've seen pickups skew toward luxury over the past 5-6 years or so, embracing an audience that wants the practicality – and the aesthetic – of a work vehicle, but without sacrificing creature comforts, technology, or indeed prestige.

The average selling price of a new pickup was over $57,000 in June 2021, in fact, according to KBB. Manufacturers like GMC are looking to even more luxurious trims to take advantage of an audience with deep pockets. And, while you may be able to order a $40k Lightning, Ford's most lavish electric F-150 will top out at around $90k.

For a startup like Rivian, it's too early to try to run the whole gamut. Quite frankly, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense when you're a smaller player in the segment, either: just like Tesla opted to launch its more expensive EVs first, and only then look to lower-priced models as its star ascended (and its balance book looked somewhat healthier), a premium R1T and the equally-premium R1S SUV coming soon after seem like a sensible strategy. As the category gets busier with new EV truck options, meanwhile, I suspect it'll be thoughtful features that help set Rivian apart in the face of bigger names.