Rebelle Rally 2022 showcases driving prowess and tests electric vehicle limits in off-road challenges
A Unique Women’s Adventure
Last year’s longest competitive off-road rally in the United States had its largest variety of automotive models participating since its inception. “When we first started eight years ago, we had only two makes,” says Rebelle Rally Founder and Director Emily Miller. “We try to throw in new twists and new challenges every year.” Back in 2020 that new twist was Rivian with its all-battery-powered prototype.
The motto of this 10-day, eight-stage driving event for women is “the vehicle in your driveway is more capable than you may realize.” The rally features four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles that can be minimally modified, but are otherwise standard daily drivers. It’s not a race for speed, but for strategy. It’s about time management and navigation, with a unique and demanding format based on the elements of headings, hidden checkpoints, pace, and distance using maps, compasses, and roadbooks without GPS and cellphones. It’s about teamwork and leadership. The 55 two-person teams (a driver and a navigator) that competed last year were compromised of women aged 23 to 74 from 94 cities, 24 states, and four countries. “They’re all the kind of women who are more afraid to say no than yes,” says Miller.
Miller too is of that ilk, supporting the rally’s commitment to environmental stewardship. “Before Rivian got involved, nobody was ready,” she says. “I always wanted this to be a proving ground for all vehicles, for companies to test their products with the people who use them. And I really wanted to see EVs in here testing. I’m a data and technology nerd, so I just said, ‘Look, we will make it happen. I’m going to calculate all the power usage, kilowatt miles per kilowatt consumption, and build a program that you can do.’ I believed in it early on.”
By 2022, seven electric vehicles participated, including the Toyota Tundra hybrid and plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe. In 2021, the electrified Jeep 4xe took first and second place, beating out the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in its class. Automotive journalist Emme Hall was part of the first team to drive a Rivian in the rally.
“We had less range than the stock Rivian do now,” she says. “It’s mostly rolling resistance and wheel spin that takes more power to get the wheels turning, because you take some air out of the tires to get a bigger footprint in the sand. Even ICE vehicles see a big drop in their range. The only difference is that it takes EVs a lot longer to charge than it does to fuel.” So Miller added 35 minutes to the daily time limit for EV participants and partnered with Renewable Innovations to rapid-charge the vehicles on the course with renewable hydrogen power.
“Renewable Innovations is a huge partner,” she says, “I couldn’t do it without them.” Robert Mount, the company’s president and CEO, has invested significantly in the rally. “This is costing us half a million dollars each year,” says Mount, “but what I’m trying to do is educate people. And that’s the investment.” The first year Renewable Innovations got involved with the rally, they underestimated the amount of power they would need to supply. “We had a hard time keeping the cars running,” says Mount. “So the second year, we put $4 million into building assets. Now we have a 53-foot trailer that can bring a magnitude of power anywhere at any time. We’re about generating green power independent of the utility grid.”
For Rivian, which competed with a preproduction R1T vehicle in 2021 and included its R1S SUV in 2022, the learnings have been successful, placing them fourth overall last year. “We added SAND mode and made software-related tweaks because of what we learned on the rally,” says Shaheen Karimian, Rivian’s automotive communications manager. “We even got to test out the camping accessories in the truck bed.” The company has also developed the Rivian Adventure Network to allow access to the outdoors by building charging stations in remote locales.
But the bigger issue with electrification right now is that the nation’s power grid can’t handle it. “If the government gets its way, and everyone goes to an electric vehicle,” says Mount, “we’re in trouble.” Miller agrees, “There are a lot of expectations that I believe are a little unreasonable right now about the adaptation of electric. But we’re doing it. We have to start somewhere and the Rebelle is a great place to develop and learn those lessons out in the middle of nowhere.” According to Mount, “People talk about colonies on Mars and the Moon, but this is our moon right here.” This year’s Rebelle Rally will take place October 12 to 21. rebellerally.com