Rivian's 'tank turn' is a cool trick for the electric truck

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Electric trucks coming to market in the next decade are determined to show off more than their battery range.

With a motor at each wheel, the Rivian pickup can spin left- and right-side wheels simultaneously in opposite directions to turn donuts in its own tracks like an Army tank.

Tesla's Cybertruck last month wowed with its impregnable stainless-steel body panels and radical sci-fi design (though a shatterproof-glass demonstration was a bust). Now comes Plymouth-based Rivian with “tank turn.”

Using its system with a motor at each wheel, the electric Rivian R1T pickup or R1S SUV can do donuts inside its own footprint – just like an Army tank.

“The vehicle’s four motors independently control torque at each wheel, allowing torque to be applied in opposite directions on each side of the vehicle,” said a company spokesperson. “The vehicle dynamically estimates surface friction and uses this to precisely apply torque at each wheel to deliver a controlled rotation of the vehicle.”

Translation: The maneuver requires spinning left- and right-side wheels simultaneously in opposite directions. The capability has long been rumored, and Rivian confirmed its spin-like-a-top capability with a video released Dec. 25.The feature will be available as an option at launch.

The video demonstration occurred off-road where the feature will likely be most useful for getting out of tight spots – say, rotating in its tracks on a narrow, dirt trail blocked by a fallen tree.

“Tank turn was developed for off-road applications and will work best on surfaces with lower friction (gravel, dirt, grass),” said Rivian. The spokesperson says the vehicle will determine whether terrain is appropriate for tank turn by “estimating the surface friction before enabling the feature.”

With a motor at each wheel, the Rivian pickup can spin left- and right-side wheels simultaneously in opposite directions to turn donuts in its own tracks like an Army tank.

Tank turn is a good fit for Rivian’s brand, which advertises a sustainable adventure vehicle (tagline: “Keep the world adventurous forever”) with outdoors capabilities including considerable storage space for camping gear and pets (with no engine or transmission, electric trucks boast more storage front and amidships) and a promised supercharging network to enable owners to enjoy remote national parks.

Rivian claims its truck can tow up to 11,000 pounds and rocket from zero-60 mph in just 3 seconds. Similar claims are also made by Tesla’s Cybertruck. The electric motors have inherently strong torque numbers and instant acceleration.

The feature come as EVs have come under scrutiny for performance claims that may seriously degrade in cold weather or when pulling heavy loads.

Rivian is roaring into the new year with news that it has raised $1.3 billion in capital from investors led by T. Rowe Price as the EV-maker ramps up production at its Normal, Illinois, assembly plant. The commitment comes on top of multi-million-dollar commitments from Ford and Amazon. The online retailer has placed an order for 100,000 commercial trucks based on Rivian’s roomy, skateboard platform to deliver packages and meet the company’s green goals.

The Rivian pickup and SUV are expected to start at $69,000 with delivery in late 2020 or early 2021. Tesla says it’s received 250,000 pre-orders for its Cybertruck that is due to begin production in late 20201 at a starting price of $39,900.

Other electric trucks in the works include Ferndale-based Bollinger Motors’ B1 SUV and B2 pickup, and Lordstown Motors’ Endurance pickup.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.