A Successful Beta Test of Adventure-Ready Electric Vehicles

When I started the rally, I wanted to ensure the vision of my mentor lived on by making it a platform for stock manufacturer vehicles. He was committed to stock. I am committed to stock. They are my size, my speed, and engineering masterpieces in my book. Art meets engineering for the masses.  And that is true for whatever powers a vehicle forward.

Quite some time ago, well before the Rebelle, my goal was to test and prove vehicles with electric and alternative power plants. Not that I had an opinion on what is better or best, but they were so conceptual, it seemed real world testing was needed to provide experience and data to build the better solution. When the Rebelle was born, it was born out of the intention to be a world-class event and competition, and provide a place for stock vehicles to shine with a proving ground for original equipment manufacturers and to dig deeper and gain real feedback and data to impact the product that people buy. In my mind, from our vehicles, course, to our data visualization tools, there is no better real-world proving ground for vehicles designed to adventure than the Rebelle Rally.

On the EV side, this year’s rally was designed as a beta-test; knowing that we needed to exercise restraint, start with a small number of vehicles, and learn as much as we could to create a long-term, sustainable Electrified program. Add in a long distance challenge, the remote locations and a global pandemic, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. But the mantra known by all at the Rebelle is – “if it were easy, everyone would do it.”

So what were the key points needed to make it happen?

—First and foremost, vehicle manufacturers that believed we could do it!

—On-course mobile rapid charging solution

—On-course fueling locations calculated by range estimations

—Overnight charging in base camp

—In the field solutions in case of problems

—An exceptional on-site execution team

—And all of it off-grid. Driving miles upon miles to plug into a hard power grid is not possible due to our remoteness combined with our commitment to avoid community interaction due to COVID-19.

Out of the gate, we talked with Mitsubishi about the Outlander PHEV. We received an immediate confident “yes.” US Army veteran Rachael Ridenour, a five-time Rebelle who successfully campaigned a Mitsubishi at the 2019 rally, would drive the Electrified vehicle in the X-Cross Class. In early 2019, we had discussions with Rivian after being connected by our partner Mapbox. Their interest was high, but neither of us were quite ready. Enter 2020 – two-time Rebelle winners Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe reached back out to Rivian. This top team’s priority is always to do something unique and challenging, and EV was top of their list. The time was right, the team was right, and we continued to proceed knowing we had filled the 4×4 EV entry with the much-anticipated R1T.

The Rebelle is not a race for speed, but based on precision driving and navigation with a healthy dose of teamwork, problem solving and decision-making thrown in.  By focusing on navigation and smart driving as opposed to horsepower, stock vehicles of many types can compete for the podium. Vehicles are placed in two categories based on their capabilities – X-Cross for 2WD and all-wheel drive, and 4WD with two-speed transfer cases. Our goal was to not place Electrified vehicles into their own class or cut their stages short. These vehicles are not oddities. They belong in the classes we’ve built.

I cannot speak to the Electrified program without including Audi. Audi’s e-tron was high on our radar, and Audi is the brand that has stoked my passion for vehicles since before I had a driver’s license. Their enthusiasm and expertise was so strong, with Christopher Michelbacher (formerly from Department of Energy) coming on board to provide much needed perspective and consulting to teach me some of the fundamentals I needed to know to place the puzzle pieces. COVID crushed their plans to take part in 2020, but they remained an integral part staying available without hesitation. And they did something that made all the difference — the introduction to Power Innovations.

While vetting charging and mobile solutions, it became quite clear there are a number of great groups that are working to serve this space, but not yet able to meet our unique set of challenges. We needed a higher kWh charging rate, and contingencies that included not only Plan A, B, and C, but D through Z. Several companies have a single source solution, but we needed more. In the Rebelle, it’s not if something will fail, it’s when. Redundancies and options are critical. Power Innovations is a company with extensive experience in providing robust, remote, green power solutions to major players across the globe. Bob Mount is their steadfast leader, who knows what it takes to get the job done. As we went through the vetting process, it became extremely clear what company we needed to trust with this monumental task. And to take it even further, Bob was adamant that they provide green power to Base Camp – a program we have been trying to develop for some time to meet our personal environmental commitment….Oh to have a quiet bivouac at night!

After breaking down every small section of course for each day into long grids, by kWh consumption estimations, my brain was tired, but I felt solid that we had a plan and had kept the information confidential to ensure no team on the rally had an unfair advantage. Plan A was set but the team knew flexibility could and would factor into the execution.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? SUCCESS. The Rivian and Mitsubishi both performed exquisitely, with the Mitsubishi earning a podium spot and the Rivian tied for 5th place in points in the hotly contested 4×4 Class (6th by tie-breaker). Both teams comprised of Hall, Donaghe, Ridenour and Levy handled the challenge so professionally with grit, brains and determination. But what also happened in my book was the journey we took to get there. A journey with exceptional people. Mark Watkins, Larry Bendall, Moriah Rackliffe, and Taylor Burke from Power Innovations worked so incredibly hard and were a backbone of the Rebelle in every way. Pete Herath, Joel Carrasco, Ryan Kalb, and Amy Mast from Rivian dove right in and became integral team members. All had the most amazing skills and attitudes that are needed in such a long distance beat down. To the documentary team, Ryan Guenette whom I spent many calls with and to the several awesome employees who couldn’t come because in a time of COVID we had to draw a limit, we are forever grateful and could not have done this without you! And of course, to my insanely talented Rebelle team with major props to Tech Director Chris Woo and Chief Mechanic Nick “Nickgyver” Cimmirusti – thank you for believing in and making our crazy dreams come true.

Despite the hard work, a solid dose of laughs, smiles and great stories were shared by us all. Friendships built on trust and respect have been forged and for that I am forever grateful and humbled.

The future is blindingly bright.

– Emily Miller