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What I Found When I Crawled Under Rivian’s Amazon Delivery Van

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Today I stopped by Munro & Associates to talk about vehicle cost reduction (sounds boring, but you just wait). And on my way home I saw the new Amazon “EDV” delivery trucks “powered by Rivian.” So I stopped and took a close look. Here’s what I saw.

Really, I stopped because I knew my coworker Jason would have a lot to say about the vehicle’s lighting situation. The rear taillight, in particular, is truly special, as Jason makes clear in his analysis below. As for what I have to say about this machine? Well, naturally I slid underneath to look at the hardware.

A Brief Look Underneath The Amazon EDV ‘Powered By Rivian’

Before I get into the hardware, let’s first identify what we’re looking at. Amazon’s delivery vans come as three models, named after their storage capacity in cubic feet (rounded up to the nearest 100 apparently): EDV 500, EDV 700, EDV 900. If you look closely as the image below, you’ll see that the length between the models changes by one rectangular “section.” Behind the rear doors, the EDV 500 has three sections, the EDV 900 has five, and the van above — the EDV 700 — has four. I’m not sure that the EDV 500 or EDV 900 are even out yet, so it’s no surprise that the one I saw had those four rear “sections.”

Now that we know what we’re looking at, let’s check out what’s going on underneath.

Just under the rear bumper, looking forward, you’ll see a steel skateboard/frame with a steel body mounted up top. The rear suspension is a coil-sprung torsion beam design located laterally by a track bar (a cheap but robust design, you’ll find something like this under the back end of an entry-level front-wheel drive car like a Hyundai Accent). I did notice that the track bar mount on the frame looks to have another stamped steel piece bolted to it — I’m wondering if this acts as a reinforcement for the bracket welded to the frame? (I.e. to make sure the track bar bracket welds don’t fail under high loads?).

Quick note: I don’t know what that rectangular prism on the left side of the photo above is. It looks almost like a stack-style heat exchanger, but obviously it’s something electrical based on the wires going to it. Hmm. Update: I’m told it’s a noisemaker so people can hear the vehicle when it’s moving.

Looking back at the rear suspension from ahead of the rear axle you can see one of the enormous trailing arms mounted to the frame, and you can see a seriously gigantic aero shield that diverts air under the rear suspension:

Also visible in the image above is a small tire spat (as Chrysler’s aero team called them) just ahead of the rear wheel to reduce drag. There are some spats up front, too, as well as a big plastic aero shield:

That front aero shield is long. It starts just under the front fascia and continues under the front subframe, under the drive unit, and then just keeps on going:

And going:

Eventually it comes to an end, exposing the battery pack shield. You’ll see how there’s only a small bit of the underbelly exposed, as that huge rear aero shield meant to divert air under the twist beam reaches quite far forward:

Let’s move back towards the front of the car and peek at the suspension: It’s a double-wishbone design. And, as a reader pointed out in the comments below, you’ll notice that there’s no coilover or coil spring or traditional leaf spring or torsion bar. Instead, you’ll see a white thing attached to the top of the lower control arm — that’s a composite transverse leaf spring. That’s pretty bizarre if you’re used to passenger cars (as for cargo vans, I’m told the Iveco Daily cargo van uses a similar spring arrangement). You might recall seeing such a layout in a Chevy Corvette or an SPA-platform Volvo, with the former more similar to this EDV since it also uses a transverse leaf as part of the front suspension. Another vehicle with a transverse front leaf spring? The Ford Model T!.

You’re naturally going to be curious if any of the parts are common with those of the R1T, and — looking at the two together (that’s the R1T’s front suspension below) — I’d say maybe the tie rod ends, but that’s about it. The basic front suspension design is similar, sure, but as for parts sharing, I don’t see anything obvious:

Now let’s look at the really good stuff — the drive unit.

This is a front-wheel drive truck, so the drive unit sits just aft of the front axle, with the gearbox output ahead of the motor. Notice how the unit hangs off the frame via what looks like a cast aluminum bracket that bolts onto a mount on the frame. I find this interesting, because presumably this drive unit is fastened to the front subframe, which is fastened to the main vehicle chassis/frame. So why fasten the motor directly to the frame?

I’m assuming the drive unit-to-subframe mounting scheme doesn’t constrain the motor sufficiently, so under load, the motor would want to torque — this frame mount is there to prevent that. And I’m guessing it was just easier, perhaps from a packaging standpoint, than constraining the motor via the subframe?

Maybe it’s not that weird. Maybe a drive unit-direct-to-body mounting isn’t that uncommon among EVs? Munro would know.

Anyway, you can see that all the power electronics sit aft of the front drive unit, just ahead of the battery pack, and hidden by that huge front aero shield.

Lighting Design: This Section Written By Jason Torchinsky

Overall, I’m really impressed that Rivian seems to have taken the time and effort to develop bespoke lighting elements for this delivery vehicle, especially since this particular segment is among the most likely to just use cheap, off-the-shelf lighting. I guess when you have Amazon money behind you, you can have some fun, and it looks like Rivian did.

The round headlight/indicator units at the front are key in establishing the EDV 700’s (Rivian’s phoned-in name for the van) simple, friendly face. They also seem to have snuck in a little Amazon arrow-smile thing in the center there.

They’re appealing round units, with an inner clear projector lens and an outer pair of half rings that functions both as a DRL and turns amber for indicator use.

They’re not exactly revolutionary, but the decision for simple round light graphics and that flat glossy black panel is a welcome change from the normal default of an overdone grille and squinty-blob light units that give vehicles a perpetually pissed look.

The EDV 700 looks friendly and eager, like a whale who’s here to help.

Around back, though, we get into something really special. I’ll let David’s earnest shock set the mood here:

I think David is exactly right; this is very likely the longest taillight ever developed by human hands. Even recent Escalades and Volvo V70s, with their massive full D-pillar taillight towers can’t match what’s going on here. The back of the Rivian van looks a bit like it’s designed to dock with a special port, like a spacecraft, with a protruding lip that you can imagine acting as a sort of hermetic seal.

Around that seal, starting about 1/4 from the bottom of the van and going up, over, and down like a horseshoe, is the taillight strip, a ring road of red light. It all appears to be able to illuminate, and at top the strip blisters to form three red clearance lamps.

The bottom ends form L shapes on both sides and there’s a dark glossy area that house the rear turn indicators, which, based on video I’ve seen, appear to be red instead of amber, which is disappointing.

Brake lamps may be here as well, or the big red inverted “U” may light up, or both; I haven’t see that yet.

Reverse lamps and reflectors are housed in a pair of frankfurter-shaped units below the rear door. Seems like there would have been plenty of room for these in the main lights, but maybe the reverse lamps give better lighting below? They could also serve to illuminate that step, perhaps?

The Interior

Based on what we’ve heard about Amazon drivers, I think the most surprising omission from the interior is no obvious urinal or urine receptacle of any sort, which–and I’m not kidding here–seems like would be a pretty good idea. If you know your drivers are peeing in bottles, why not offer a better solution?

Urine aside, the interior looks pretty good; lots of hard-wearing-looking vinyls and rubbers and plastics. The blue accents (and kicky blue seatbelt) give some nice color interest to the otherwise grayscale interior, and that seat looks well-padded and comfortable.

The legroom is a little unusual, with a sort of step that runs the length of the cab under the dash, but it doesn’t appear anyone would actually be cramped. The passenger’s side appears to have a folded jump seat, though it’s likely only for very occasional use, like if Jeff Bezos wanted to ride shotgun or something. The instrument cluster appears to be an all LCD screen setup, and the center-stack screen is a landscape-oriented widescreen LCD panel.

All in all, the Amazon EDV is just a lovable and fun machine with the biggest taillight in vehicular history. And if you don’t think that’s great, seek help.

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85 Responses

    1. Also, around Christmas UPS employs a lot of seasonal driver-helpers to speed up deliveries by helping to move packages from the truck to people’s doorsteps. (I did this once, it was honestly kinda boring and I got shin splints from jumping out of the truck a thousand times per day.) I don’t know if Amazon intends to do this, but if they wanted to they would need that second seat. It would also be useful for internal testing, where one tester drives and their partner monitors whatever is being tested. Also, I’m sure there will be lots of odd edge cases where a van needs to transport a human passenger for whatever reason, like perhaps if one vehicle has to come relieve another that has broken down and it makes sense for the stranded driver to just ride along back to the depot. It makes sense that it’d be there.

    1. Battery swapping is a fantasy. That’s probably a $25,000 battery in that van – how many are you going to buy? Even if it only takes 30 minutes, a pit, a forklift, and a technician, it’s still cheaper just to plug it in and wait an hour. Modern dc fast charging would probably add 100 miles in an hour.

      1. It does have to compete against Level 3 charging. However, I’m thinking that in a vehicle where cosmetics and handling are not priorities (i.e., the battery can be made decently accessible), it should be possible to design a fairly fool-resistant way to shuck ’em in and out with just the forklift. Geely has a robot that they claim does it in five minutes with enough battery for a transit-mix concrete truck. It’s a reasonable question to ask for fleet service, and the more trucklike the vehicle, the easier it should be.

        Tesla, you’ll recall, claimed that they could do a swap in three minutes on a Model S several years ago, though doubtless that was under ideal conditions with a pretty sophisticated robot.

        A company called Ample was going to (maybe actually did) demonstrate swapping with something more like these vans:
        https://www.chargedfleet.com/10153833/elms-ample-partner-on-battery-swapping-for-fleets

        Again, it does have to compete against Level 3 charging (with its startup costs) but I don’t think it’s that silly an idea, especially if your vehicles are highly committed at certain times of day.

        1. There are other reasons why battery swapping will never be a viable thing. One is IP. Companies have pretty much ALL their intellectual property in the battery. They aren’t going to want to give that up for some standard design that deprives them of their marketing edge.

          Another is wear and use. I’m to drive my brand new $100,000 vehicle for a few hours, and then hand over my brand new battery and have it swapped out for some dirty old thing that’s been in everyone else’s car? Ain’t happening.

          Another is liability. EV fires aren’t going to happen because the cup holder broke. It’s all in the battery.

          Granted, I could see it being useful for proprietary fleets like garbage trucks or school busses. But I would argue that swapping batteries is simply more trouble than it’s worth.

  1. Man, this thing looks like potentially an awesome work truck. The range is too short for my service area, but if you could make that work it would be pretty sweet to have one of these kitted out with shelving for tools & materials and an open central corridor for pallets. I wonder if/when Rivian will offer a version of this to companies other than the Big A.

    The modular body is interesting too, because it suggests that it would be relatively easy to design other, more specialized bodies to replace it. EDV cutaway, anyone?

    1. The range seems solid for a short delivery radius, but I can see how running it around town as a electrician/plumber/etc van would be tough.
      Also, those wheel bases. My promaster is the 136″, and then there’s the 159″ and the extended body on the 159″. GM and Ford do the same thing, with slightly different lengths. 187″ is the middle? over 200″ for the bigger one? That’s gotta be like doing a k-turn in a bus. NOT ideal for city deliveries, at least the way I see the amazon drivers throw the Promasters around.

      1. I roll up to residential jobsites in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville with a 15′ box truck all the time. Old, narrow, twisty, crowded streets. Shitty parking. It sucks, don’t get me wrong, but it’s doable. FedEx and UPS drivers literally do it all day every day, and I see them gliding through narrow, one-way streets with parking on both sides like it’s no big deal. If I mainly worked in a dense city I’d for sure try to have the smallest vehicle I could possibly get away with, but for a more suburban clientele something like this would be the business—if it had the range.

    2. Would be interesting to hear more from the automotive engineers about the structural integrity of the welded frame. Doesnt welding affect the areas around the weld? Is the frame as strong as it was before? What would happen in case of a crash? Lots of people fix frames this way but is it going to hold up when a drunk soccer mom slams her 6000 lb escalade into it?

      1. There are elaborate procedures based on experimental testing to determine the best way to weld metals together and retain the desired properties without introducing unwanted effects. There are engineers who specialize in determining the best welding processes for manufacturing different products and they build in large margins of safety to account for the aspects that are out of their control.

        In a situation as critical as a vehicle samples would be tested to destruction during all planning phases and periodically throughout the entire production run. The welds would be cut apart, etched with acid and observed under a microscope as well as being subject to metallurgical analysis to track any changes in either the base metal or the filler. Some would be loaded until they fail mechanically with the amount of force involved and the specific method of failure giving important information as to whether the welds are functioning as intended.

        The risk of a vehicle being made to modern standards with welds that compromise its safety is negligible and, in a well designed production environment, the series of errors necessary for that to occur undetected should be nearly impossible.

      2. Welds can affect the material around the weld (the “heat affected zone”). It occurs when there is enough metal mass to conduct heat rapidly away from the weld zone. You get an effect similar to quenching steel, where the grain structure changes under rapid cooling. Quenched steels are stronger but more brittle than annealed steels.

        In frames like this van, the sections are thin enough that HAZ is unlikely to be a problem. You just don’t have enough mass to conduct heat away really quickly. If you do, you can avoid the problems of an HAZ by pre-heating the parts before welding.

      3. Frames have been welded almost as long as there have been frames. Weld integrity depends on what sort of steel it’s made from. Mild steel or high-strength steel is really forgiving, whereas Chromoly is damn near impossible to MIG weld (which is the process used in most production lines). Short story: Welding steel frames is fine.

        1. If it’s an issue there are air hardening steel alloys. These are commonly used for bicycle frames and IIRC were developed for aircraft landing gear. That said these alloys need to be TIG welded which is less volume friendly

  2. I suspect that rectangular prism is the device for creating the reversing noise. Probably one of those newer wide-spectrum ‘static’ sounding ones (which are easier for people to locate and therefore need to be at the very tail end of the vehicle).

    1. I was thinking it might be a sensor for an automatic rear door opening, like the ones on minivans where you can wave your foot under the bumper and the door opens. However, with the rear step and a roll up door, that doesn’t seem as likely.

      The angle of that rectangular prism makes me think that it needs to interact with the outside environment – if it was just a heat exchanger, there’d be no need put it at an odd angle.

      Your idea of the reversing noise makes sense to me. The angle could be used to bounce the sound off the pavement immediately behind the vehicle, helping to put the sound where it’s needed.

  3. In regard to the lack of an in-cabin urinal, I’d be surprised if Amazon doesn’t offer its male drivers condom catheters (sometimes called Texas catheters) and leg bags for urine collection. I’m pretty sure long-haul truckers use them, and I’m thinking of putting one on for my next (solo) road trip. They’re pretty handy in that they’re hands free. You don’t have to whip your Willy out to relieve yourself, which I imagine could cause problems while driving.

  4. The front looks like that honda ev concept.

    Love the sectional design of the van. They could easily retrofit if thr need longer or shorter vans and repairs could be easier if only 1 section is damaged.

    I can picture a future Sci fi setting where a bunch of these sections are self driving and come apart for true last mile delivery.

  5. We had a Electric Ford Transit 250 or 350 show up at work the other day for a product demo. It was exactly the same as a gas or diesel powered Transit, it just had an Electric motor instead of ICE, no transmission in the tunnel and a power pack somewhere.

    Likely cheaper, ready to go, built with proven technology versus the Rivian all brand new approach

    1. Gonna be less well-optimized for being electric though, and anyway all the major delivery companies other than USPS make heavy use of step vans rather than regular cargo vans. They’re built to be quicker to get in and out of, and it tends to be easier to move around in the back—optimized for making lots and lots of delivery stops.

  6. I find it hilarious that David straight up pulls over (imagining tires screeching), just to crawl under an Amazon delivery van to get himself (and us I suppose, but probably more for him) a look at how Rivian has put these things together.

    Thank you just for that, was really interesting and while it would have been even funnier if you had of been caught by the driver, that black box was probably a camera so hope you smiled and waved to Bezos! 🙂

    1. I thought it was rather brave of DT to get under that thing to take pictures. If amazon drivers can’t pull over for two minutes to relieve themselves, do you think they are going to take time to make sure an automotive journalist isn’t under the vehicle before driving off??

    2. Honestly the “undercarriage deep dives” are some of my favorite things David does. Nobody cares about stuff under the vehicle, they just see “Oooo Shiny new and fancier surfaces” and the discussion generally stops there. I want to see innovation UNDER the skin, and right now in the automotive journalism world, David is like the only guy who seems to go after stuff like this.

        1. Glad I could add to the article. As a side note since you updated the article, the C5 and C6 generation Corvette didn’t just use a transverse leaf spring at the rear, it was also used at the front, thus the joking comparison.

          1. You’re good. VERY GOOD. (I cleaned that up).

            P.S. I think you’ll like the story we’ve got going up soon. It’s a basic suspension design article by Huibert (designer of Ford GT and Tesla Model S suspension).

  7. As a van geek, this is right up my alley! A few points:

    That biggest version is a lark. At 205” the wheelbase will make it turn so wide it will be a hinderance in city driving. I looked it up – a Town Car limo is less. Freightliner Cascadia is 230”. The longest Sprinters and Transits are around 170”. Most HD pickup trucks are around 160”.

    I’m surprised they didnt just go with rear leaf springs. Cheap, simple, durable. They would say “floor height” because leaf spring requires more clearance to the road. Yet, with a roll up rear door vs swing out, they are giving up 12” of interior height anyway. That roll up door has to have somewhere to go.

    Leaf springs also have a hidden advantage – passive 4 wheel steering. As the spring compresses, the tire rolls forward (try it) and the wheelbase shortens.

    I could write an article on piss jugs.

    FWD is superior in this application. Glad to see they agree.

    Amazon logo is a turgid penis, presumable on it’s way to full height in the customer’s mind. I thought we all knew this.

  8. What I really like about this article, and the site in general so far, is that I’ve learned something here. I had never heard of a transverse leaf spring so I did a quick search and figured it out.

    I often learn something new from a DT writeup, so please keep up the good work.

  9. I was initially surprised that the body was steel since aluminum and fiberglass ate more common. UPS uses aluminum bodies and fiberglass hoods on their custom package cars. On the other hand steel is cheaper, easier to form and repair and weight is less of an issue in package delivery since you’re more likely to cube out.

    It will interesting to see this in service and get some data on range and costs

  10. “I did notice that the track bar mount on the frame looks to have another stamped steel piece bolted to it”

    David! For those of us who aren’t as familiar with car parts as you, open up Preview on your Mac and add some red arrows so we know what you are talking about!

  11. I love that styling. Friendly, not angry or intimidating like 98% of modern vehicles. Rivian nailed it with the future look. It would be amazing if the “dock seal” Jason mentioned fit into an actual docking gasket at the warehouse and the surround light went green when the vehicle was properly docked. With modern tech it is possible. Also, I love the integrated and yet stylish grab handles out back too. Why is the USPS sucking so bad at choosing a new vehicle? Oh, I forgot about politics and Postmaster insider trading. That explains it.

  12. Hey Autopian, do you think we might see an article on how Amazon and similar fleets set up charging infrastructure? I think it could hold interesting insights on how the country as a whole might do it.

    I assume they’ll need to charge many vehicles overnight, all at once or in shifts with someone to change over the plugs halfway through the night. Either way that’s a lot of level 2 chargers.

    I would love to see fleet operators like Amazon, or especially the post office (if they get it together for evs) offer some public plugs for use in the daytime when the working vehicles are out. It wouldn’t make a mainstay of public charging infrastructure, but could be a useful backup for when the fast charger you were counting on is broken and you need some miles to get to the next one. Post offices are well spaced geographically and typically have at least a couple of parking spots to spare. It could be an extra revenue source for the old USPS too.

  13. “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, red indicator shaming’s got to go!”
    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Torchinsky on the whole amber rear turn signal thing. Red indicators allow for lovely simple rear lighting design like we see on this van, where an amber section would interrupt the continuous flow they were clearly going for.
    I opine that the whole amber turn signal movement is really just a Europhile Imperialist different-is-superior smug-fest in disguise! ::Throws down a translucent red plastic gauntlet:: I’ll meet you behind Randy’s Red Rears anytime, Mr. So-Called-Torchinsky!

    (Disclaimer – this is all in good fun, I’m a huge fan of Jason, relax!)

    1. Agreed! Just because those goons in Europe do something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. My ancestors fought in the revolutionary war specifically so the British couldn’t impose lighting standards on us.

  14. They need to put an LSD on these so that the lead-foot driver stops rutting out my gravel driveway as he peels out. I have to go out and smooth it back after every Amazon delivery because he loses traction coming up the hill and just lays on the gas all the way to the top. Maybe the FWD layout will fix this.

  15. About that step under the dash: Since drivers will be getting on and off that seat about a quarter billion times a day, you want the seat height optimised for that. But that height will not be optimum for for the pedals, so, the step.

  16. I assume that the tiny Amazon “smile” on the headlamp is designed to light up any distant surface with a giant version of the logo a la the Bat-Signal(TM). So, when your Prime driver pulls up the driveway with your same-day delivery of toilet paper and dildos (or whatever you’re into), you get the Prime-Signal(TM) beamed into your living room.

    1. It’s GVWR, not curb weight, so I doubt it’s a typo (particularly since it’s set to keep the truck as a 2b vehicle instead of a Class 3). GVWR sets the vehicle’s weight class and maximum load. What this means is that the van may be bigger, but it actually can hold less package weight (in theory) than the smaller truck. Since it’s highly probable that these vans will cube out anyway, it’s not a big deal.

  17. It stands to reason that, if Amazon provided a built-in urinal function, it would have to have both make and female capability. Otherwise it’s a recipe for a discrimination suit. So that added….complexity probably dissuaded them from providing that function at all.

  18. Crawling on the ground in a parking lot, taking pictures and making a detailed study of a vehicle that he spotted from 100 yards off and probably doesn’t have permission to crawl under… this is what keeps us coming back. Did David look like he was up to no good? Probably. Did anybody call the cops? Doesn’t seem so, but I’m sure it was a possibility. All that so that we could learn that _maybe_ we could swap out the tie rod ends from a truck we don’t own to a van we can’t own. His excitement for this stuff leaps out and makes me actually care about the most mundane bits of a vehicle. Keep it up, good sir!

  19. For something that will be running around in cities I was a little surprised to see all the extra length go into the wheelbase for the larger versions. That’s going to absolutely kill the turning radius, although I strongly suspect it made design and manufacture significantly easier.

  20. Really like the rear end of this thing, especially how the protrusion for the step extends around the entire perimeter to also form handles and an overhang that might help keep rain out of the cargo bay when the door is open.

    Speaking of the cargo bay, any pictures of that?

    Hope to pick up a high-mileage used one in five to ten years. That would be dope.

        1. UPS is notorious for NOT wanting their old vans out of their hands: they have an elaborate system in place to ensure that all retired vans get crushed.

          I’m guessing they don’t want their old stuff turned into (semi-) mobile business advertising à la UHaul

          1. I was unaware of that.
            Makes sense to not want a crackhead on the news for a hit and run in a former ups van though.

            I’m surprised they don’t strip em for parts or have a massive Boneyard somewheres.

        1. You don’t want a used UPS truck. They are not disposed of because they are still usable. Broken frames, suspension torn off, bodymounts torn off. The drivetrain keeps getting replaced until it is unsafe to be on the road. Then if the engine or trans are low mileage they get pulled and reused again.

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