Recently (~3 days ago), a large online automotive blog had an opinion piece written about the new EV company, Rivian, and the purchase experience of a single individual being described as "Torture". Of course, the online automotive blog I'm speaking of is MotorTrend and more specifically writer and photographer Jonny Lieberman.
Prior to reading this article I actually viewed MotorTrend as a generally good, unbiased source for car news and reviews. However, this blog was complete and utter click-bait from the beginning.
Previous Vehicle Buying Experience
Torture... I can't even imagine any purchase experience that doesn't include a 4hr back and forth haggling session in a car dealer's office anything near torture. Maybe, just maybe, if you are the type that like the back and forth haggling to have a dealer remove the ridiculous and outrageous $25k dealer markups that have become the norm in the automotive industry over the past ~2 years (supposedly due to high demand and supply chain issues).
I remember the experience of buying my first and only new car, a Honda 2010 CR-V at a Henrietta, New York. Well I suppose, if I worked at MotorTrend, I would need to find a word worse than "Torture" to describe it... cause that experience was far worse than even the experience that was supposedly encountered by this MotorTrend writer. There were several go rounds at a conversation similar to this.
Me: "I have budgeted $xx,xxx for this purchase and feel this is a fair price for a CR-V with these features based on the MSRP of $xx,xxx."
Sales Person: "That is below what we have it listed at, I'd have to ask to see what we can do."
.... silently waiting alone 30+ minutes before the sales person comes back ...
Sales Person: "Ok, sorry that took so long, but I was able to get them to come down from $xx,xxx to $yy,yyyy (usually $1,000 or $1,500 difference, but still off of the MSRP mark)
Me: "That is unfortunate, cause that is above my top line mentioned earlier, I'm not looking to be problematic and really this is already the highest I'm able to go, either it works or it doesn't. I'm not looking to play games here."
... repeat the process all over again ...
I even ended up just walking out of the sales room after 2 or 3 times at this even after having been told "I have 2 or 3 other clients looking at this same exact vehicle, you may lose out if you don't accept this deal."
Though, being an Economic major I knew enough about business to know that this is a classic enough sales tactic to get people to bite the bullet and settle for an offer that they otherwise wouldn't have... So yes, I did simply walk away without what I came for wasting 3-4 hours of a great sunny day where I would rather be doing well... anything else.
Eventually after a few calls (initiated by the dealer mind you, I didn't reach out) they finally came down to my original offer and I drove the car off the lot the next day after yet again another 2 hours of signatures and inspections. Another 2 hours on a warn, sunny day in Rochester, NY where I would rather be doing almost anything else.
Though enough about traditional car buying experiences... I'm sure everyone has had an experience similar to the above. There has to be a better way, right?!? Like simply having an MSRP like almost any other expensive electronic device we buy these days, not like you walk into an Apple (Microsoft or Google) store and get quoted a price and haggle it down to where you are agreeable to pay! And if you have... definitely let me know cause then I know I'm doing something wrong.
My Rivian Experience
I do have to caveat we haven't finished the 8-step process due to a few reasons, no direct fault of Rivian's.
- We choose to go with private financing and not Rivian's official parter, Chase. This adds additional complexity and multi-party conversations and document sharing that isn't integrated into the purchase flow.
- We also couldn't go with Rivian's official insurance partner, Nationwide, cause come to find out after calling for a consultation they don't sell or offer vehicle insurance in our state, Massachusetts.
Neither of the above should be a knock on Rivian, if I walked into a dealer and said "I will use private financing" the same or at least a similar thing would happen.
Those caveats out of the way, our overall Rivian experience has been great so far. Anywhere from conversations (yes, conversations vs Q&A sessions) with Customer Service, to our Guide Pamela which was assigned on June 29th, 2022 to starting the purchase process on June 30th, 2022 and our First Mile Experience on July 5th, 2022 with Mason everyone we have spoken to or chatted with has been absolutely phenomenal and super helpful. In that regard, we have indeed won the Rivian Lottery as so much of the experience is tailored by yourself (attitude you bring to the table as well as the individuals you get "randomly" assigned to in the backend of operations.
We are expecting to finish the 8 steps this week for our scheduled delivery of Saturday, July 24th at 11am, though our 3rd party collaboration requirements or even the filing with the RM-V may push this date back. The only reason delivery is scheduled 4-5 weeks after our vehicle configuration was confirmed and shipped from the factory (over the July 4th / Independence Day weekend) is due to international travel plans in our family preventing an immediate delivery experience. So I have similar experience to Jonny in that regard, but more difficult due to further Timezone differences and limited cell connectivity when reaching out or asking for progress updates in "backup paperwork" activity which we (the purchaser) don't have insights into.
Needless to say our kids may be the most excited for this new adventure than we are... nah I think everyone is equally excited to get our new truck and create memories that will last a lifetime or two with it. The following pictures are just a glimpse into our recent First Mile Event with all 4 of our us in truck quite comfortably along with Mason, our Rivian Driver's Experience Specialist.
The simple things in life surprise and make our girls so happy. What I would give to be 3 and 6 years old again with little worries in the world, other than "where is my stuffy?!?!" when it is time to go to bed.
MotorTrend Article Quotes
They use the following quotes to describe this experience.
But buying it? I'd rather visit my periodontist and get my gums scraped.
When I heard "eight steps," I got nervous. Sounded like too many.
The one that killed me—aside from essentially being forced to sign up for Rivian's Nationwide-backed insurance to get to the next step
I didn't find 8 steps to be too many, but did find the "Estimated" times to complete to be completely misleading similar to TurboTax or other online FinTech applications. What they don't take into consideration is the time for any custom or "bring your own <x>" situations. Sure if I already had all the documents required downloaded and ready (paystubs, bank statements, etc) then yes 5 minutes to complete say the 03 Financing step would be accurate. However, once you step out of the "ideal path" and say bring your own financing (yes this is an option... and always has been just like insurance!) unless you already sent the purchase agreement, got the lien information and MCO for registration, etc... this step alone will take days to sort out with your lender and Rivian, the dealer.
I had a 2014 Ford Fiesta ST in good, slightly modified condition with 43,000 miles on the clock. Rivian's website offered me $10,400. I not only balked, I called my Rivian Guide and said something like, "ARE YOU KIDDING?" No, I was told, that's what the computer offers and there's nothing they can do about it. Fine, I'd just sell the damn thing privately.
(... sell the Ford [Fiesta ST], which I was able to do rather quickly for nearly 50 percent more than Rivian offered.)
Well, duh. Any traditional car dealer would have done the same thing. Though yes the difference here is that with Rivian (just like Tesla's purchase experience) there is no wiggle/haggle room, the quoted value is the quoted value take it or leave it... and regardless of the 3rd party the value you can get on the private resale market is almost always going to be more.
I'm told by my friendly Guide to make sure I bring a certified or cashier's check with me on Tuesday. "What?!?" I rudely exclaim. "You're telling me this now? I'm in Colorado, and flying back tomorrow, landing after my bank is closed and I have to work the morning of the 14th? How can I get a cashier's check?"
Then I'm told there's another option. I can just simply link my bank account to my Rivian account and pay that way. All I have to do is go to the website and link the two.
Yeah... this should be common knowledge to anyone that read the summary for Step 7 - Payment which outlines this clearly for everyone. Rivian has always had a simple way to setup ACH (just like say anything on the internet these days when transferring large sums of money around, or even smaller amounts in say PayPal or Venmo).
Though again this is where we run into a snag being remote and more especially out of country and with a small, small local credit union versus a larger national bank (Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.) which all have support for Plaid a SaaS provider of FinTech solutions like ACH transfers. So back to the all too well known at this point "off the beaten path" method of purchasing, which again isn't fault of Rivian exclusively.
Given we are out of country without a checkbook... well that means we can't simply write a check and take a picture of the front for uploading to Rivian's 8 Step process. We could, if our bank allowed, write a digital check that then is sent out by our bank, but our bank limits those types of requests to <$2000 "for our safety". Though given that Rivian requires a tracking number... that likely wouldn't work as our bank doesn't provide digital tracking numbers on the physical mail that is sent out, but rather a confirmation upon creation and delivery. Though then again clicking through to the next screen, and only upon clicking to the next screen is it clearer that a personal check wouldn't be accepted and it had to be a cashier's check... which I expected and assumed based on the amount of money the check was for and the certainty a merchant receives when the check is created by a bank (immediately deducting the associated funds) vs a personal check. How the MotorTrend author got approval for a personal check must simply be an exception that can be pulled for those "influencers" or "knowledgable" parties.
So the one and only choice we have (catching a theme here?) is to request a wire transfer from our bank. In this way I can identify with the MotorTrend author, but to name this feeling Torture is a way too far. Annoying, yes. Torture, absolutely not.
In theory I probably could open a new checking account online and initiate a digital transfer all within the required amount of time if I knew at Step 1 that at Step 7 (Payment) that I would run into these issues. In this way I would like Rivian to "unlock" the overview and informational screens of each sections in the 8 Steps Experience and/or clearly document the process and limitations of each step for those wishing to go through them all would be able to determine where they might get stuck before they need to fill out a specific step. Why did the information about sending a down payment only get unlocked the week of my delivery, versus 3 weeks ago so I could plan for it (beyond liquidating and transferring cash around the clouds for eventual ease of access)?
After another round of back and forth with insurance, Rivian (the dealer), and my bank contact we have finally got some checks in the mail all while still being out of the country. Worst part of it was waiting to hear back from various individuals and teams that were responsible for certain aspects to the various work streams. For us the bit that needed to be reworked was the insurance binder was marked to be "valid starting on <delivery date>" whereas the bank required a binder with an effective valid date the same day of the financing being closed. A relatively quick change that to me doesn't really mean or matter at all... but you know bean counters being bean counters.
After uploading the FRONT of the check photo copy provided by our chosen bank and adding the tracking information we now have 7/8 steps completed, with only one remaining one to resolve and the payment to be approved manually (guessing).
Now that the down payment information was submitted in Step 07 - Payment there is still the lender check and lender check tracking code that needs to be uploaded in Step 05 Upload Documents. Since my lender sent both checks together this is a repeat step, though I did split the provided PDF photo copies of the financed check and the down payment check which were provided together and shipped together. With that out of the way we have a final 8/8 steps completed and prepare for delivery message available.
Areas to Improve
Yes, absolutely there are areas to improve. Though torture is simply what it is... click-bait and that is all.
3rd Party Collaborations
Mostly for me the improvements would be in getting quicker at providing documentation required for 3rd party financing and insurance providers. Though being a new kid on the block the various asks from different institutions around evidence is hard to gain through any other avenue other than experience. In our case we were using a local federal credit union in the area and was the first both the Chelsea Service Center as well as our Guide had seen a specific request for a picture of the dealer's title before delivery of the title in the purchaser's name.
Maybe even exploring ways to setup multi-party communication: email, MMS/chat/slack/whatsapp/etc (if a provider supports it) Having this near real time communication in some situations would be ideal. This to me has been the best part of the guide experience, though understand this can vary greatly from guide to guide (see next improvement area).
Consistent Guide Experiences
The other area of improvement is in guide training and quality. I've seen in various forums and other places that guide responsiveness, knowledge and helpfulness varies widely. This should be something fixed so everyone can have a experience to us. However, potential purchaser's should also seek some of their questions regarding equipment, accessories, etc from the community of content online. Many folks in the various owners' forums as well as Reddit have many and many hours if not days poured into these vehicles at this point and would freely offer advice and help to those that simply seek it out.
Community Involvement (Referral Adventure Network)
In that regard I feel Rivian could do a bit more to enable, empower, connect and provide some type of appreciation (swag, credits, payment, etc) to the community for doing just that, helping other potential buyers along their purchase journey, similar to what an official guide or Customer Service agent would do. For instance I, for instance, would completely be willing to allow anyone in my community that has an interest to test drive my truck upon arrival. I'm not even sure how one even gets reached out to for scheduling a First Mile Event, it just happened for us likely manually requested by a Customer Service agent we had talked to several times, Kelsey. Who has been fantastic to connect with over the past several months.
Purchase Experience Documentation (or Simulation)
The easiest place that Rivian could improve the overall buyers experience is to have a well documented, or even a test purchase flow that users could click through the various 8 steps and learn what are the potential purchaser's options and documentation required for each step. This would greatly improve the time to complete each step as research, homework, and preparation can take place prior to starting the 8 steps "for real" and ultimately wouldn't delay delivery of vehicles to these customers ... which would only be a good thing to Rivian being able to boost deliveries per month/quarter and move stalled inventory off the Service Center lots.