Rivian’s Venice hub gives the electric car lifestyle the soft sell
All I knew, heading to the Rivian Venice Hub, was that it was the home of Ray Bradbury and that I could sign up for free meditation classes there. I did not do it. I had signed up for free edible gardening classes because the word “edible” sounded promising. It is edible as in “edible”, not as in grass, although either may be possible in Venice, CA.
I didn’t have an R1T to drive, but figured a Mustang Mach-E GT should get me in the right all-electric mood for roaming the first of the Rivians. . . dealers? Showrooms? Charging stations? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Hub, which is advertised on Rivian’s website with photos of attractive people reading books, smiling from rooftop tents, and stroking little pots of cilantro. It is described as “a place to gather, connect and share ideas”. As a curmudgeon who doesn’t like sharing or socializing, I figured I’d hate it. Still, my mission was to verify, and I was determined to do my duty.
The Hub is a small brick complex in the middle of a busy block of Venice Boulevard. Plans to park and hook up were immediately shattered by a closed gate across the driveway, but I found street parking just as another Mach-E drove off, at a few cars of a white Rivian truck and a gray BMW i3. If the goal is to sell an electric lifestyle, the Hub seems to appeal to the right crowd.
As the main driveway was closed, the pedestrian gate was opened and I followed a couple with a goldendoodle puppy inside, where a friendly lady checked us in for the gardening class. There were about 30 people milling around, mostly younger couples, many with kids or dogs. Outside one building was a bike rack with bikes plugged in in the same muted earth tones that Rivian uses on its trucks. On the back wall was a coffee stand selling organic iced lattes and pastries. “Do you have non-dairy milk? ” I asked. “We alone have non-dairy milk,” the barista replied.
All around were simple, elegant wooden seats and wheeled planters filled with fragrant herbs. Among the actual Rivians were two, a Launch Green version parked in the center of the compound, and behind it a Limestone Gray machine featuring off-road accessories like a bed-mounted tent. Both trucks were used as jungle gyms by some of the kids, but Rivian representatives seemed unfazed, pointing out the features and answering questions from anyone who asked them.
The gardening class was about half the people there, and despite my initial reservations, it was fun. The instructor, Loretta Allison, specializes in landscaping with usable plants, and she encouraged everyone to pick and sniff through the garden beds. Despite my personal history with murdered greenery, I found myself fantasizing about going home and setting up beds of candy peas and heirloom potatoes. I’ll spare you the details of four pages of winter planting notes, but if you’re curious, lettuces taste best in cold weather, and nasturtium adds a horseradish spice to winter salads. At one point the instructor had to repeat himself, drowned out by the roar of a passing GT500. I was the only one looking up as I passed.
The gardening course is just one of the events organized by the Hub, which also works with other local experts, such as a local bike shop who organizes safety checks and a zero waste expert who gives instructions on the recycling and reuse. There are also regular story and craft hours for children, reflected in shelves of children’s books in an airy library and a series of crayon-and-marker drawings of Rivian trucks draped over the room’s windows. neighboring art.
Altos in the front, loaders in the back
After cutting some violas and learning the proper technique for planting potatoes – bury them deep, they grow more – I left the class as they crushed thyme between their fingers and compared compost bins, and I’m went to explore the buildings. There were actually chargers, but they were hidden in the back, intended for display vehicles rather than the public. Rivian announced plans for an ambitious charging network – more than 3,500 600-point DC fast chargers in the United States and Canada by 2023 and 10,000 Level 2 chargers in expedition centers and parks. But for now, the Venice Hub is not one of them.
It’s not a dealership either, despite the laid-back staff helping six-year-olds in and out of the R1T’s gear tunnel. You can get technical questions answered, but Rivian handles online reservations and sales. So I guess you could buy an R1T at the Hub, but you would do it on your own phone or laptop. For many boutique electric brands, designing a lifestyle may be key to capturing a customer base more than a traditional dealership experience, and they could be onto something. How often does a mainstream vendor send you home with a bag of organic arugula?
Before leaving, I went through the small gift shop at the back of the library. Hand-thrown pottery by local artists shared the space with flashlights and Rivian-branded t-shirts in the same hues as the bikes and trucks. Whatever else you say, the designers of the Rivian brand are top notch. The shop rep was happy to answer my questions about the place, telling me that the actual crowd was rather small, probably due to the rainy morning. When I insisted on learning more about the Hub’s business case, he smiled at my capitalist confusion. “It doesn’t have to be a transactional space,” he said. “It may just be a community gathering point.” He said he regularly saw international visitors arriving to and from nearby LAX, and just as I was about to scoff, a customer turned from the shelf he was browsing. “I’m from Korea!” he said, adding that he had seen a Rivian trial in his hometown, thought it was interesting, and since he was in Los Angeles on business anyway, he figured he’d drop by and in would see one up close. Then he bought a Rivian thermos. Time will tell if he goes home and orders a truck.
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