Lucid Motors is a small electric car startup based out of Menlo Park, Calif. that has big dreams for the future. But not that big. Unlike some of its peers (I’m looking at you, Faraday Future), the company steers clear of making outsized promises about the nature of its car. It won’t transform transportation. It won’t reformat your life. It just wants to make a beautiful, zero-emission car that you can drive in style.
I got to take a ride in Lucid Motors’ Air prototype during CES in Las Vegas this week. The company first unveiled the 1,000 horsepower, ultra-luxury vehicle at the LA Auto Show last year. The camouflage was still on the car I rode, but Peter Rawlinson, the company’s CTO (and the former lead engineer on the Tesla Model S) said it would be coming off in a few weeks.
Almost immediately you notice the Air’s large, luxurious interior. And it wasn’t just because the engineering prototype had been stripped of nearly everything inside. No dashboard, no center console, not even a cup holder. Exposed wires lay strewn across the vehicle’s floor. A huge metal bar ran across the width, holding everything in place. The only hint of Lucid’s high tech ambitions is three digital displays perched behind the steering wheel showing things like vehicle speed and battery power.
But the roominess! Rawlinson explained it was because of the way the car’s battery pack is stacked. Rather than lay the batteries flat across the chassis like some electric cars, Lucid has “sculpted” the battery pack to enhance the interior space. That makes the Air narrower, shorter, and lower than a Model S, but with the interior space of a long wheelbase S class Mercedes.
“This is kind of a paradigm buster,” Rawlinson said. “It’s great to ride in and it’s great to drive.”
But why would we want a compact-but-roomy electric car? According to chief designer Derek Jenkins, the goal was to build a vehicle that’s easy to park and store in an era of limited space. “Space is a premium, parking is a premium, maneuverability is a premium,” Jenkins said. “So the car just can’t get huge.”
I didn’t get to drive the Air, but I did get to pleasure of being Rawlinson’s passenger as he tore ass down the Las Vegas strip. This thing can cook. At one intersection, Rawlinson punched the gas pedal the second the light turned green, causing the ultra-luxury vehicle to literally lift up off the ground and fly down the straightaway. Or at least it felt that way. One hairpin turn had me almost landing in Rawlinson’s lap. This was a very, very fast car.
But it’s not the fastest. Lucid readily admits that its car falls short of some of its competitors. But that speaks to the company’s commitment to honesty about what it can deliver. Those willing to throw caution to the wind can preorder an Air right now. All you have to do is plunk down $2,500 deposits to reserve a “standard” production model, or a whopping $25,500 for a special, well-optioned “launch edition” that is one of the first 255 cars off the production line. The Air was originally slated to start shipping in 2018, but Rawlinson said that date has been pushed to early 2019.
The company draws obvious comparisons to Faraday Future: both are smallish California-based startups with a fair share of ex-Tesla engineers on staff; and they share an investor in Jia Yueting, the founder of Chinese tech giant LeEco. But while Jia is Faraday’s primary backed (for better or worse), Lucid has other investors, including Venture Rockefeller, the Japanese company Mitsui & Co, and Chinese-owned Beijing Auto.
Building an electric car from scratch when you’re not someone named Elon Musk is tough. Look at Fisker Karma (bankrupt) or Faraday Future (struggling). Rawlinson said Lucid is entering this game with eyes wide open. “We know the pitfalls and the mistakes that are so easy to get sucked into,” he said. “For example, over complexity of systems that offer marginal value to the customer. We don’t believe in that approach.”
Riding with Rawlinson in the Air, it isn’t difficult to imagine this car easily finding a customer base, especially if Lucid can deliver on its promise of a 400-mile range per battery charge. That could go a long way towards addressing some of the range anxiety that prevents a lot of people from making the jump from gas to electric. And while we didn’t get a chance to test it, the car’s full-suite of autonomous technology could enhance whatever driver assist system Lucid includes in its vehicles, giving the company a solid chance at competing with Tesla in the near future.