SF Technotes

The Lucid Back on Track  

By Michael Castelluccio
June 24, 2020

Silicon Valley-based Lucid Motors will restart production of the first model of their luxury electric vehicle (EV), the Lucid Air sedan. Lucid Motors announced on July 18, 2020, “As Lucid’s 1,000+ employees return to work in a phased approach, they resume vehicle development that was only briefly delayed during shelter-in-place.”


The new schedule for the debut moves from the canceled New York International Auto Show in April to a September 9 online event. “In addition to the vehicle’s final interior and exterior designs, new details on production specifications, available configurations, and pricing information will be shared.”


For a number of reasons, Lucid is a noteworthy potential competitor for EV manufacturer Tesla and makers of other luxury that are gas powered. Lucid’s CEO/CTO is Peter Rawlinson, the former chief engineer of the Tesla Model S. The Lucid production site is a $700 million factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., that’s projected to employ 2,000 workers with an initial production goal of 20,000 cars in 2021 and up to a maximum of 380,000 vehicles per year thereafter.


A Lucid showroom. All photos/Lucid Motors


The negotiations for more than $1 billion in funding for the factory were completed in April 2019 with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Production will begin later this year, and the company has recently hired 160 new employees with plans to add 700 more by the end of 2020.


The Lucid Air sedan front interior




Two critical features that Rawlinson and his team plan to compete with are serious improvements to the build quality of their autonomous-ready EV, including much more room in the backseat area, and a partial solution for the universal problem of all current EVs, “range anxiety.” When you can’t just stop at any of the scores of gas stations available in most areas to refuel, the current limited number of miles you can get out of a charge can be unnerving, especially in highway driving where there isn’t a lot of braking, which helps recharge your batteries while in motion.


When you apply the brakes in EVs like the Tesla and the Air, something called regenerative braking uses the electric motors as generators to convert the kinetic energy you’re losing as you slow down back into stored energy in your battery. The Tesla Model S that Rawlinson once helped design has a range of 310 miles on a charge. The Lucid Air will take you 400 miles before you need to stop for a recharge.


A side-by-side comparison of price and performance stats of the two cars reveals other advantages. The basic prices for the two vehicles are comparable. The Tesla S is $58,190, and the first reports of a starting price for an Air is $60,000. But the performance specifications for the Air are more impressive—top speed of 200 miles per hour (mph) and zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds. That top speed is set by the software in the car’s system, and a reported 235-mph speed was achieved on a test track with the limit removed. EVs are powerful by design, and the Lucid Air has a combined 1,000 horsepower rating for its two electric motors.


Popularity of the Tesla cars has expanded its line of vehicles to include S, X, and Y models, and a mid-priced Tesla Model 3, which surprised many when it finished last year as the best-selling compact luxury car in America. With their fuel savings and very limited maintenance demands compared to gas-powered vehicles, EVs have a wide appeal. As ranges improve and charge stations become more available, they will become even more attractive, expanding the market and encouraging competition.



The rear interior of the Lucid Air sedan.




Lucid Motors began life as Atieva, a company dedicated to developing electric car batteries and power trains. In 2016, Atieva became Lucid and shifted to the design and production of electric cars. The CEO, Peter Rawlinson, had been vice president of vehicle engineering and chief engineer of the Model S at Tesla, and before that he was chief engineer at Lotus Cars and principal engineer at Jaguar Cars. Derek Jenkins is the vice president of design at Lucid, and previously was the director of design at Mazda North American Operations, where he oversaw all design developments locally and globally.


The loss of the opportunity at the New York International Auto Show in April and the slowdown due to the coronavirus have stalled the company’s plans, but since April, Lucid has released two videos to help maintain a public profile. One shows the winter testing of two Lucid Air prototypes in “the frozen northern reaches of Minnesota, in temperatures that dropped as low as -27F/-33C.”


The Lucid blog posting continues, “The extreme environment is ideal for validating vehicle dynamics as we test[ed] features like antilock braking, traction control, and stability control on a circle track, an ice field, a snow field, and a handling track.” Not an insignificant demo because a common rap on EVs is their loss of battery performance in extreme cold temperatures. The second video documents a road trip that establishes the range of the Air.


In February 2020, a team of executives from Lucid drove an Air from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a single charge, then recharged and made it back home to San Francisco again, all on one charge. The distance between the cities is 382 miles, easily achievable with the vehicle’s advertised 400-mile range.


The future of the Lucid Air is still up in the air, but competition usually benefits the consumer. Perhaps a sign of the future contest can be glimpsed in a recent (June 15, 2020) Tesla press announcement concerning a Tesla S Long Range Plus model with performance marks that include a 402-mile EPA estimated range, 155-mph top speed,  zero to 60 acceleration in 3.7 seconds, and autopilot self-driving capability. The Long Range Plus has a starting price of $68,990, which the press notice says is a recently received price reduction of $5,000.


Michael Castelluccio has been the technology editor for Strategic Finance for 26 years. His SF TechNotes blog is in its 23rd year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.

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