I walked into the Classic Car Club of Manhattan with squishy shoes. It was raining heavily in the city, but all was forgiven when publicist Dave Buchko put a cup of coffee in my hand and introduced me to the production version of the Lucid Air.
This is a much-anticipated electric car, four years in the making, with launch specs that out-Tesla Tesla. And that’s been the aim all along for CEO Peter Rawlinson, who was the chief engineer on the Model S. Other companies with EVs deny that Elon Musk is in the crosshairs, but Lucid is quite upfront about it.
The company is based in Silicon Valley, with a $300 million factory in Casa Grande, Arizona (halfway between Phoenix and Tucson). It has only one sedan model, the Air, hitting Lucid’s studios this spring, in several variants. The launch car is the top-of-the line 1,080-horsepower Dream Edition, with staggering stats: Zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds, the quarter mile in 9.9 seconds (almost as fast as a McLaren P1). All this, plus room for five (with limousine-grade rear legroom), advanced infotainment, excellent fit and finish (at least on the two cars in the showroom) and awesome range—508 miles. Yours for just $169,000.
There are some things to give you pause about Lucid. The money, $1.3 billion, comes from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Oil money, it seems, bought a reported 67 percent stake. But it’s worth pointing out that this is the very same fund that Elon Musk had in mind when he said “funding secured” (as much as $50 billion) to take Tesla private.
And anything I say about the Air isn’t based on driving it. That’s supposed to happen in February. The Fisker Karma looked good, too, but then the check engine light came on during my first test drive.
Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s vice president of design, described the Air as the first EV fully optimized around electrification, but isn’t that also true of the Tesla cars, the Porsche Taycan, the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Bolt and more? Never mind, because this car really does take advantage of the new possibilities.
As Jenkins pointed out, the car has a very roomy passenger compartment, with more storage than a Model S (which is .2 inches longer). That’s made possible with a shape that’s not only amazingly aerodynamic (0.21 coefficient of drag, better than a Prius) but minimizes the hood and trunk length to give more space to the cabin. It’s easy to imagine this car being popular in China, where chauffeuring is common among the classes able to afford this car. Not only do rear passengers have Wilt Chamberlain-type legroom, they get a contrasting color upholstery that recalls the limousines of the 30s. Only the divider window is missing (actually a great accessory in the age of COVID).
Both the frunk and the rear compartment have ingenious folding cargo covers that reveal yet more places to store luggage. The Dream and Grand Touring models will come with a contrasting aluminum roof; lesser iterations get body color.
The Dream Edition on view had a nicely understated interior that combined alpaca wool, alcantara, saddle Napa leather from Scotland, and eucalyptus wood trim. But there are four more available interior trims, including one with vegan “leather.” The rear seats have a 60/40 split. The main screen is a curved and free-floating 34-inch 5K affair. I love that the tablet-like center screen (controlling climate and other features) is retractable to reveal more storage.
From Jenkins I moved on to the emphatic German engineer Eric Bach, vice president of hardware engineering. Bach is ex-Tesla (where he was director of engineering from 2012 to 2015) and ex-Volkswagen, and highly critical of the fit and finish on cars like the Model 3 and Model S. He pointed out that Musk is a theoretical physicist, not an engineer, focused on what’s possible—and doesn’t like to hear the word “no” or worry about part production variances. Bach’s exit interview must have been interesting.
Bach gave a tour of a bare Lucid chassis, displaying the under-floor battery pack and two-motor AWD layout. The Dream’s liquid-cooled pack operates at 924 volts and uses 22 modules (the company’s own, but with LG Chem cells) with slightly more than five kilowatt-hours each, for a total of 113 kWh. Is it bigger than anything in the Model S? Yes.
Each of the motor/transmission/differential assemblies can generate up to 670 horsepower, Bach said, yet they weigh only 74 kilograms (163 pounds). CEO Rawlinson totes one around in a carry-all bag. Bach said that Lucid has tested a three-motor chassis with 1,300 horsepower, and even a four-motor version with close to 2,000. But that’s “future product.”
Bach was critical of the Porsche Taycan’s range, which is EPA-rated at 201 miles (though testers have seen better results). He says his drive units are lighter “with three times the power.” He claims the cars go further than the Porsche or Tesla on the same amount of electricity, and therefore get a better climate change score. But Calvin Kim, product spokesman for the Taycan at Porsche, points out that his car offers a two-speed transmission "so of course they're lighter than us. We'd rather have the two speeds." The Taycan is the first EV with a dual-speed trans.
Lucid’s base Air will start at $77,400 ($69,900 after the $7,500 federal tax credit) and offer 408 miles of range and 480 horsepower. Still not too shabby. The company said earlier in October that it will open 20 Lucid Studios in North America by the end of 2021. The first New York location is 2 9th Street, in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. As with Tesla, it’s a direct to consumer model, with virtual reality to sell the customer.