Vehicle Preview: Lucid Air
Setting the Definition of Luxury Mobility
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | February 2018
At the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, Car-ED had an exclusive chat with Lucid Motors VP of Design Derek Jenkins. He is what you would call “a designer’s designer,” with an impressive resume that shows he’s helped put into place some of the most exciting and respected design languages in the industry, at brands like Audi and Mazda. Jenkins is tasked with bringing the company’s first luxury EV sedan, the Lucid Air, to market by 2019, and he and Marketing Director Zak Edson gave us a thorough walk-around of their upcoming vehicle and some insight into the company’s plans for the rollout.
Who is this company?
Lucid has been around since 2007, at first focusing on battery technology under the name Atieva, but in the past few years has parlayed that research into developing their own car. Lucid is an electric vehicle luxury brand, and as such some see it as a challenger to Tesla. It has also lured away a decent number of Elon Musk’s employees, including Lucid Chief Technology Officer Peter Rawlinson, but the upstart is aiming to best the Silicon Valley star in a few key ways.
First of all is their battery and powertrain technology. Lucid says it’s making big advances in energy density and charging speed. In fact, the company has said it may eventually be able to charge its vehicles more than twice as fast as Teslas on their Supercharger network, but right now that’s limited by the speeds of the network.
But the company is also claiming big breakthroughs in terms of their batteries’ tolerance for quick charging. The competition can be severely affected by repeated use of DC fast chargers—reportedly to the tune of losing 30% of their battery capacity. Lucid says their battery chemistry enables them to avoid this kind of degradation. And the Lucid Air will have a range of up to 400 miles, which is around 50 more miles than that of Tesla’s top Model S, the 100D.
Tell me more about the car!
The powertrain is also an advancement in terms of size. The batteries and motor cover a comparatively small footprint compared to other EVs, even with the Air’s higher range, and this leads us to Lucid’s second big advantage: space efficiency.
Lucid believes that Tesla has hewn a bit too close to convention when it comes to vehicle proportions. So the company lured away Jenkins from Mazda—where he’d been busy helping to create one of the best-looking lineups in the industry—and set him loose to defy industry norms of packaging and shapes.
Size and Space:
“We’re moving beyond traditional categories in terms of size,” says Jenkins. As a result, Lucid says they’ve achieved an incredible balance between size and space. He told us that the car is around the length of a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but it has the seating space of a Maybach, the former ultra-luxury barge produced by Benz’s parent company. And the Air gives particular attention to the rear seat occupants, with a choice of a more traditional bench seat, or an uber-opulent pair of reclining thrones that bring to mind business class seats on a high-end trans-Pacific flight.
The company is looking to “define the space of luxury mobility,” rather than taking cues from the other luxury brands already out there. And according to Jenkins, Lucid’s plans to bust the traditional sizing mold include SUV segments as well.
Like a Tesla Model S, the Air has dual trunks, both front and rear. With the executive rear seats that back compartment is a bit compromised, but with the bench Lucid says you’ve got the full E-Class-sized trunk back there, plus a decent sized “frunk” that can hold your golf bag and carry-on.
It’s not just space that makes the Lucid Air premium. The materials inside are both luxurious and sustainable, including “automotive tweed” and “wood that has been responsibly grown” in California, according to Jenkins.
Lucid very much embraces its California roots, especially with the interiors of the cars. In fact there are four interior themes that will launch with the car, based on California locations, including Mojave, Santa Cruz, Tahoe and Santa Monica. Lucid even marks the car theme with a GPS location and a time of day to tell the occupants exactly what mood the interior is intended to evoke.
The car we got to see was a Santa Cruz model, with a mid-day designation. It’s unique in its approach, with dark-hued front seats to reflect a serious driving environment and creamy white rear executive loungers, as a relaxing oasis.
“The interior [of the Air] is not all about tradition,” Jenkins says, emphasizing that Lucid decided to zig where others zagged.
Tell me about the tech!
The car’s available glass roof can let the Santa Cruz sun come streaming in, but with electrochromic dimming it can also go nearly pitch black. Very cool.
The Air is also thoroughly bescreened, with capacitive touch displays flanking the driver on either side, an iPad-like center stack and a smaller screen in the back for climate and seat functions. And Lucid touts the intuitive nature of the interface.
“You don’t have to read a manual to figure out how the car works,” Jenkins told us. And anyone who’s familiar with how apps work on a phone will have an easy time in the Lucid Air.
“All the native third-party apps run on here in their native format,” he said, pointing to the center display. “It’s going to work like it does on your phone.” And of course Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be included.
What’s unique about the sheetmetal?
The impressive design details continue on the outside, with brushed aluminum trim used pretty extensively on the outside, which reflects the car’s aluminum-intensive structure. The exterior aluminum is particularly prominent in the roof, which presents a futuristic and unconventional profile, including two little fins in the rear for aero.
Most intriguing – the lighting:
Perhaps the most intriguing detail on the outside, though, is the dramatic headlight execution. Each lamp cluster is composed of 10 swiveling arrays the each contain thousands of “micro-lenses,” allowing for ultra-precise control of the beam, including aiming it based on the driving situation.
Those headlight arrays swivel open when the lights turn on, creating an exciting little dance that’s fun to watch. And it makes for a hidden headlight effect that’s rare these days. The Air still has plenty of accent lighting visible even when the main beams are hidden, though, including a glowing “Lucid” at the leading edge of the hood.
How fast will it be?
Some of the most exciting aspects of the Air are its propulsion specs. The base model, which Lucid says will start at $60,000 before tax incentives—well under the opening ante for a Tesla Model S—will sport 400 hp. It’ll also have a 240-mile range. Both of those numbers, though, can go well up from there, including the 400-mile model we mentioned up top.
The dual-motor variety—the base model has RWD—will reportedly pump at least 1,000 hp to all four wheels. Lucid claims a 0-60 mph time of 2.5 seconds. That matches the official claim for the current Model S P100D in Ludicrous Mode (though Motor Trend managed to pull out a 2.3 in an S). While the fully loaded Air will top 100 grand (a loaded Model S is around $150k), for that price you get a car whose prototype version hit a confirmed 235 mph.
Can it drive itself?
Yet one more way in which Lucid is trying to beat Tesla at its own game is with autonomous capabilities. Elon Musk’s EV brand has made its Autopilot feature a big selling point. While critics have taken issue with the way Tesla has marketed the capability, arguing that even the name suggests it can be relied upon more intensively than the Level-2 system that it is, Tesla buyers have been generally happy with it, and cite Autopilot as a big differentiator for their vehicles.
Lucid claims the Air will be even more sophisticated at launch, with Jenkins citing their expectation to have autonomous capability “between Level 2.5 and 3” at launch. You can refer to our article on autonomous drive systems for the different autonomous levels. A “Level 2.5” would probably be a system that allows the driver to focus on other tasks while still keeping an eye on the road.
The company plans to hit Level 4—the car’s brain can handle everything in most normal driving environments—a couple of years after launch. That doesn’t really put them ahead of the curve for the rest of the industry, if you believe the predictions coming from companies like Nissan and Ford. But if Lucid takes a similar approach to Tesla with these features, it’s likely that they’ll shoot for a more aggressive roll-out than the fairly conservative traditional carmakers.
Okay, but how do I get my hands on one?
Lucid’s launch will happen first in the US, and shoppers can put their money down right now. It’s a big check, however: $2,500. You’ll probably have to wait until at least the end of next year to take delivery, but if you want to be towards the front of the line you can plan to spend big on one of the quicker and longer-ranged Launch Edition cars.
You can reserve your car here: https://lucidmotors.com/reserve.
Like Tesla, Lucid plans to operate their own network of stores, rather than going through dealers. Jenkins was excited to mention an addition that Tesla has yet to implement: virtual reality, which will allow shoppers to take test drives without placing a tire on the pavement. This will be important if it will locate its showrooms in places like malls, the same way Tesla does.
The company is looking to “define the space of luxury mobility,” rather than taking cues from the other luxury brands already out there.
The next market to receive the Air will be China, which has been rolling out aggressive targets for vehicle electrification, with the government trying to ensure they’re the world leader in EVs. Europe has also been aggressive in this regard, with several governments there declaring dates by which they plan to ban internal combustion engine sales, the earliest being in Norway, which wants to have ICE-free showrooms by 2025. So that continent will be the third market for Lucid.
To reach that point, though, Lucid will have to fight a highly competitive uphill battle within today’s boutique EV market. Tesla brand and stock are strong, but it still has yet to turn a profit, or stick to its production forecasts in any meaningful way. And other EV startups like Faraday Future and Karma have been struggling to stay afloat, while plug-in vehicles are still trying to gain traction in the US.
Lucid seems to be in good shape, though, having just moved across the Bay into a new office in Newark, CA, now only 10 miles down the road from Tesla. If the Air makes it out of the gate, it will be one of the most exciting cars on the road, and may even make Elon a bit jealous.