A few days ago I came across an interesting tweet from Rivian Updates. The company asked its fans if they thought Rivian should make its Rivian Adventure Network accessible to all EV drivers. It is currently only open to Rivian vehicles, but the stations are often empty.
What should Rivian do? #rivian
— Rivian Updates (@rivianupdates) November 22, 2022
As you can probably see, a majority of those who responded to this non-scientific survey said they think it should be made public and that all EV drivers should charge it. About 33% of respondents disagreed, saying they thought it should remain private or be a mix of public and private. So there’s still a significant number of people out there who don’t believe that making all Rivian locations public is the best idea.
We can only really speculate as to why people took each position, but educated guesses aren’t a bad thing.
Why do people think the way they do?
For the folks who think the stations should be public, the answers are likely either in the public interest of all EV drivers (current and future) or in their own interest. As more stations are open to the public, electric vehicles become more useful. If EVs are more useful, more people will buy them because they can go more places with an EV. This is great for electric vehicles, the environment and industry. From a private point of view, it makes sense to want this, since not everyone can afford a Rivian and it would be nice to have a few more charging stations, especially in rural areas.
But if you’re a Rivian owner (or a future Rivian owner), there are reasons to resist it. Existing public charging stations available to all EV drivers can get very crowded. If you have some stations that only Rivian drivers can use, there’s a better chance you won’t have to wait in line, or worse, rely on a broken or out-of-service station.
For Rivian itself, having only Rivian stations means that Rivian vehicles have an edge over the competition. When considering whether to buy a Silverado EV or a Rivian, with more rural stations for outdoor adventures, the Rivian is a more valuable proposition than either the Silverado or the Lightning. So Rivian has good reason to only make them available to Rivian owners.
A way to please everyone
I think that with modern computing and EV technology there is room for answers that fall somewhere between fully public and fully private. It is quite possible to please people who occupy all of the above positions. I think allowing other vehicles to charge at Rivian Adventure Network stations makes a lot of sense for the reasons outlined above, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be at the expense of Rivian or the people who drive a Rivian.
There are two ways to make it open while still giving Rivian drivers the edge.
First, let’s remember that pricing doesn’t have to be the same everywhere. Nothing prevents Rivian from offering free or cheaper charging to Rivian owners while charging owners of other vehicles a higher rate. This would make the stations available to other riders who really, really need them, but encourage them to go elsewhere if possible. I don’t think the rates should be exorbitant, but charging 10-20% above the normal market rate for DC fast charging in a given area would be enough to put the bird off without people flying.
In addition to the price advantage for Rivian owners, Rivian could also allow Rivian owners to reserve time at a station while en route there. This would be frustrating for non-Rivian drivers arriving only to say ‘no’ from the charger, but it would ensure Rivian drivers get the first benefits when charging. This would basically give Rivian owners the same benefits of a closed network while still allowing other drivers to get a charge when it’s not busy, or at least let them charge in 20-30 minutes instead of never.
This directive would not have to be set in stone
My above idea is based on current conditions. DCFC stations are still relatively rare, and in many places, Rivian will be the only girl in town. But we have to keep in mind that things will change quite a bit in the next 5-7 years.
This is already happening. Charging stations built with #Dieselgate funds will also be installed in 2022 and 2023. That alone will make a big difference in some places. Then there is the Infrastructure Act requirement to install 150kW DCFC stations every 50 miles along highways. And in the years after that goal is achieved, the Infrastructure Act will cover many other highway corridors, stretching well into most rural areas.
Once these stations are all online, it would make a lot of sense to close Rivian stations again in most places, as EV drivers will have plenty of alternatives.
A semi-gated experience would not need to be set up at all Rivian stations either. In some places it may make more sense to simply open them. In others it may make sense to keep them closed even today because there is already a good alternative nearby. If the situation in a local area changes, Rivian can easily adjust guest fee policies and pricing on a case-by-case basis.
Another good option: share locations
Another thing Rivian could do would be to simply add some extra capacity and cabling to its Adventure Network locations. If they leave a booth or two and a few hundred kW of power open, the company could partner with companies like EVgo, ChargePoint, or Blink to host stations for non-Rivian vehicles.
If another company (and its customers) stepped in to cover the on-demand charges and pay the majority of the device costs, that would keep Rivian from shelling out resources for the competition. This would both lower Rivian’s costs and give Rivian riders an extra station or two to use when no one else is around and the Rivian stands are full.
Featured image provided by Rivian.
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