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Podcast

What the New Rivians Say About the Future of EVs

Inside episode eight of Shift Key.

A Rivian R3X.
Heatmap Illustration/Rivian

Earlier this month, the electric-car maker Rivian announced its new SUV, the R2 — a $45,000 family hauler that will get more than 300 miles in range. It also debuted the R3 and R3X hatchbacks, which entranced online car nerds.

These new Rivian models are sleek and important, but they won’t go on sale until 2026 at the earliest. Can Rivian last that long? We also chat about how electric vehicles’ physical requirements — big batteries, high voltage wires — are changing the design of cars themselves.

In this week’s episode, Rob and Jesse discuss Rivian’s quest to survive, how electrification is creating new vehicle categories, and the coolest EVs coming down the pike.

Subscribe to “Shift Key” and find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

Robinson Meyer: There’s this term called carcinization in evolutionary biology.

Jesse Jenkins: Ooh.

Meyer: People know this meme, which is that things in the sea tend to evolve into crabs. There’s lots of animals that look like crabs in the sea that are not true crabs, so to speak, because the crab is like a very successful bottom dweller form factor. And so animals that do not start as crabs, once they fill the same ecological niche as crabs, will wind up looking like crabs after you know 10 million, 15 million years.

To remember another guy, I have been thinking also a lot of the — again, if you’re not driving, Google this — the 1990s Toyota Previa, which was a kind of, it was a minivan that was like a half oval. It was kind of pill shaped. And again, the wheels were right at the front and right at the back. It was a more successful car, you’ll see it, it was the iconic 90s Toyota minivan.

And I do feel like, to some degree, the whole car market is undergoing this process of carcinization, where what is actually the vehicle that people want the most, especially families want the most, is a minivan. But minivans are not seen as cool or rugged, and so the whole car market is like trying to generate a vehicle that is as close to the Previa as possible but does not look like a mini— You know, it’s not actually, but to some degree I feel like we keep evolving minivans again and again.

If you think about the history of what the family car has been, where it was a station wagon in the 70s and 80s, then it was a minivan. Now it's this crossover SUV thing.

Jenkins: Yeah, because they make a lot of sense.

Meyer: Those are, broadly, very similar cars. They’re very similar, right? They let you seat two to three kids and they give you a lot of space in the back. But as fashion changes and what's cool, we have to keep redesigning that form factor for just what’s trendy at the moment. But we’re just dancing around this common design.

Jenkins: Yeah, it’s really interesting. There’s such a funny love hate relationship out there with minivans. I mean, they are incredibly useful cars, right? But it’s so hard culturally. It’s so hard to be like, Oh, I got a minivan, I gotta drive a minivan now. I turned 40 this year, so I’m right there. I grew up—

Meyer: You're closer to your midlife crisis than I am here.

Jenkins: —in a household with, originally, when I was first born, they had two Volkswagen bugs. And then as we, my sister and I grew up and we needed more space, both my parents traded in their bugs for Volkswagen minibuses. So we had the Volkswagen bus. And it was like the best family car growing up, right? Because we could all camp in it. Like, you know, we could throw the back seat down and put a mattress there. One of us could sleep on the floor, the middle seats. All my friends would fit inside it for trips to the beach. You know, it was just a super useful vehicle.

And of course that, you know, that sort of design atrophied out in terms of the mass market. People still buy them to convert for campers and things like that, like the Volkswagen California and other kinds of models like that in the van segment. But it’s interesting, the ID.4 Buzz is coming back to the market in the U.S. this year, as well. It’s the sort of rebirth of theVolkswagen microbus, and I'm really curious to see how it does because it’s a cool design. It’s a very retro forward, right? Which is very similar to how the R3 looks, I'd say.

I'll come back to that in a minute. But I’m really curious to see how it sells. I know my family’s been really interested in it, waiting for it to come out and see what it actually looks like in real life, and maybe test drive it and see if it’s something we might want in the future. But I would love to see more in that category, right? The van.

And you know, the SUV is really just trying to imitate a van with rugged looks that you really don't need. If you just admit it, you just want a minivan.

This episode of Shift Key is sponsored by…

Advanced Energy United educates, engages, and advocates for policies that allow our member companies to compete to power our economy with 100% clean energy, working with decision makers and energy market regulators to achieve this goal. Together, we are united in our mission to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy in America. Learn more at advancedenergyunited.org/heatmap

KORE Power provides the commercial, industrial, and utility markets with functional solutions that advance the clean energy transition worldwide. KORE Power's technology and manufacturing capabilities provide direct access to next generation battery cells, energy storage systems that scale to grid+, EV power & infrastructure, and intuitive asset management to unlock energy strategies across a myriad of applications. Explore more at korepower.com.

Music for Shift Key is by Adam Kromelow.

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology. Read More

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