Straight off the heels of a monster $1.3 billion investment led by T. Rowe Price, electric truck startup Rivian has shown off a new feature called the Tank Turn that it says will be available on its electric R1T pickup and R1S SUV when they reach the market sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.
So what is the Tank Turn exactly? It’s a capability that allows the truck to change direction on its own footprint, turning the left and right wheels against one another kind of like a skid steer or a Russian screw-powered vehicle or uh... a tank.
I don’t know all the engineering details yet, but presumably, the trucks will be able to perform this feat by turning he hub motors on each side in opposite directions, something that would be impossible in any contemporary vehicle that uses traditional differentials to drive the wheels.
Rivian says that the feature will be available on its two initial models, the R1T and the R1S when they come to market. Since we’ve heard about them, we’ve learned that the brand has a van in the works as well and will be supplying its skateboard platform to Ford for a Lincoln model too. Whether those vehicles will also get Tank Turn capability remains to be seen.
While the feature does look like a lot of fun, it apparently will find limited use. When news of the feature leaked last summer, Autoblog reported that Tank Turn will be usable on loose surfaces like gravel or the mud you see above. If you try it out on pavement you will “break shit.”
Before that, Techcrunch noted that Rivian had trademarked the terms “tank turn” and “tank steer” about a year ago, suggesting that such a feature could be coming from the company, which, despite a few unique details, has usually shied away from the kind of flashy trick features and bold capability claims that other electric vehicle start-ups have become known for.
While the Tank Turn does look mighty impressive in the gif above, pickup trucks are not new ground for impressive yet complicated steering technology. Back in the late ‘90s, GM experimented with an impressive and arguably more useful four-wheel-steering system called Quadrasteer. While the feature didn’t make it past the GMT800 generation, it still showed that a little innovation could go a long way towards making large vehicles considerably more maneuverable, particularly in tight quarters.
We still won’t know how effective or useful this feature will be until we get to test it out ourselves, but I think it could be more than just an impressive party piece in environments like worksites where obstacles could make maneuvering such a large truck complicated. I mean, wouldn’t you rather pop your truck into Tank Turn mode than make an ∞-point turn? I know I would.
Correction: December 25, 2019, 12:36 ET: An earlier version of this article suggested that the Rivian R1S and R1T would have a motor on each axle. Rivian plans to use hub motors at each wheel.