A Rivian buyer got his dream car after a 3-year wait. Days later, the car was dead and he faced a $2,100 bill.
Rivian's customer service disappointed one early adopter during a time of need.
Rivian has been struggling with a touch-and-go relationship with its early boosters.
"I'm just not the right person to be an early adopter," the Rivian owner said.
When Chase Merrill took his first ride in his new Rivian R1S, it was his favorite car that he had ever driven.
Merrill, 24, put down a deposit on an R1S three years ago at the urging of family members who also own Rivians. He was unsure about making the switch from his 2015 Ford Edge to a fully electric SUV, especially since he lives in a relatively remote area in the Adirondack Mountains, New York.
But once he got behind the wheel of the $85,626 car on March 10, those worries melted away.
"I was in a honeymoon phase," Merrill said in an interview with Insider. "It's an incredible car, and it handles unlike anything I've ever driven" — but the honeymoon didn't last long.
Two days later, Merrill drove his R1S to his family's shared property in the mountains. He wanted to put his rugged electric SUV to the test, so he drove it on the unplowed, snow-covered road into the property.
At first, the R1S sliced through the snow. Then, a large snowdrift stymied the car, he said.
"I hit about 2 ½-feet of snow and it just stopped right there," Merrill told Insider. "I had seen all the Rivian marketing campaigns with the cars just eating through the snow so it was kind of like, man this is disappointing."
Merrill said that he's dislodged cars from snowbanks before, and enlisted another vehicle to help pull him out. While he was sitting in the driver's seat, unbuckled, rocking the R1S out of the snowbank, he said that he accidentally triggered a safety feature that got the car stuck between the park and drive gears.
His Rivian was bricked, rendering it completely useless.
The brand-new Rivian ultimately had to be loaded onto a flatbed and driven to a service center in Chelsea, Massachusetts, hundreds of miles away. The towing fee was $2,100.
The ordeal now has Merrill considering trading the R1S for a Toyota Tacoma or a similar gas-powered pickup truck, he said.
In an interview with Insider, Rivian executives said that the car did exactly what it was programmed to do in a dangerous slide-away situation — but in this case, it wasn't sliding away.
"There was an unfortunate cascade of events and edge cases that led to this situation," Wassym Bensaid, Rivian's senior vice president of software development, told Insider. "But we take this feedback as a gift. It's great input for us to improve the product."
Bensaid said that he and his team are brainstorming responses to this specific incident, such as adding better service shortcuts to the Rivian mobile app to report problems like Merrill's and sharing FAQs for drivers whose cars get stuck.
Rivian risks alienating early adopters
Merrill isn't the first early Rivian fan to start souring on the company. Rivian has had trouble keeping some of its order holders happy as it navigates the early days of full production for its three electric vehicles.
Insider has interviewed dozens of current and former Rivian order holders in recent months, some of whom say that they're losing hope that their vehicles will ever arrive. Several are even making backup plans with orders for other electric vehicles in hopes that another option might arrive sooner.
After narrowly missing its self-imposed production goal in 2022, Rivian has provided a lower production goal for 2023 than analysts predicted. The company has also stopped sharing updates on its sizable stable of orders — once a bragging right.
The long waits are leaving some early boosters of the company feeling burned. For a young company like Rivian, these early fans can make or break its reputation, shareholders, analysts, and Rivian investors have told Insider.
Rivian is working to improve relationships with its order-holders, said Tony Caravano, Rivian's head of customer engagement.
For example, Caravano told Insider in an interview that the company is giving customers options for faster delivery if they change their original build specs. Rivian is also trying to be more transparent about reasons for delivery delays, he said.
Merrill's Rivian returns with an error message
Most Rivian owners appear to be happy with their vehicles. The EV startup topped JD Power's EV ownership study last month, and Rivian owners who have reached out to Insider often say that their cars were worth the wait.
For Merrill, the problem isn't with his Rivian; he said that he's more concerned with how the company handled his first real issue with the vehicle.
Merrill said he later learned that a simple reset may have resolved the issue that bricked his car, without requiring a service visit. But that solution did not come up in his initial call with Rivian's customer service, he said.
A Rivian representative later apologized to Merrill and offered to pay for the repairs, but the company refused to pay the $2,100 transportation fee, he said. After Insider called Rivian this week to ask about Merrill's experience, a Rivian representative called Merrill offered to cover the $2,100 bill.
The final straw for Merrill happened, he said, when the car was returned to him and a critical error message showed on his dash saying that the Rivian needed to go back to the service center.
"The attitude the whole time from customer service was that a Rivian owner should be able to handle this no problem," Merrill said. "They just think this should be nothing for me and it's not nothing."
Caravano is taking that kind of assessment to heart. He says that the incident with Merrill is giving Rivian the opportunity to reexamine the company's support for new EV drivers.
"There's nuance to that ownership experience that we have to make sure that they understand," Caravano said. "One of the great learnings here is for us to be even more even more communicative about key parts and key elements of the ownership experience when we know that customers live in more remote areas."
Merrill said that he's still rooting for Rivian, but he just isn't sure that he has the money or the patience to be one of the company's early boosters.
"The car is super impressive and I want the company to do well," Merrill said. "I think I'm just not the right person to be an early adopter."
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