I think he's totally right. Rivian has made a lot of big promises. If they deliver, it'll be amazing. Whether they'll be able to deliver is still an open question.
I finally had time to read up in detail about Rivian and their new vehicles, and I'm both more interested and more skeptical. The more I read about the R1T and R1S the better they sound, but also the less convinced I am that Rivian can deliver these vehicles for the prices they've promised.
So let's dig in!
The base model R1T with the smallest battery will reportedly start at $69,000, and the most expensive configuration with the largest battery will cost around $100,000. Available battery sizes range from 105 kWh (~230 miles) to 180 kWh (~400 miles).
Those mileage ratings work out to energy usage of about 450 watt-hours per mile for the R1T. For comparison, the highest-range Tesla Model X currently available, the P100, has a 100 kWh battery and promises ~295 miles of range, which equates to about 339 Wh/mile.
This puts Rivian's range claims within the realm of possibility, but a mere 111 Wh difference between the sleek, aerodynamic Model X and the large, bulky R1T still seems a bit optimistic to me. Perhaps the R1T is more aerodynamic than it looks, or maybe its motors are surprisingly efficient. It's possible.
But the Tesla Model X P100, with its 100 kWh battery, has a starting price of $99,000. That's almost exactly the promised price ceiling of the Rivian R1T, a car with a battery nearly twice the size.
Tesla is currently far and away the world leader in lithium-ion battery manufacturing, in terms of both volume and cost efficiency. In 2016, Tesla said their battery pack manufacturing cost was somewhere in the area of $190 per kWh. In 2018, Elon Musk said they hope to get the cost below $100/kWh by 2020.
This means that even if Rivian can somehow match Tesla's battery manufacturing costs, the top-spec 180 kWh Rivian R1T battery pack would still cost roughly $18,000 when the R1T goes on sale in 2020. That's a huge line item on a $100,000 car, especially one from a brand new company with a brand new manufacturing line and no existing economies of scale.
I'm far from an expert on these matters so this is all just casual napkin speculation on my part, but I think Rivian's going to have a really hard time making these pricing promises come true.