Part 1: The Vision, Strategy, and Brand
Five years after entering the mainstream market with the volume-focused Model S, Tesla remains the premium EV automaker to beat. It’s developed a cult following not dissimilar from a certain Cupertino-based brand, enough to garner half-a-million pre-orders for the new Model 3. A few start-ups have sought to capitalize on this electrified band wagon, developing high-dollar, high-performance EVs of their own.
At first glance, Lucid appears to be one of these contenders, even attracting a handful of top ex-Tesla employees. Don’t be fooled; instead of nipping at Musk’s heels, Lucid seeks to redefine automotive luxury and to capitalize on the future of the automotive industry as a whole. To see what makes this brand different than the other high-end EV marques, I spent the better part of a day at Lucid Motors [CLICK], spending one-on-one time intimately discussing the Lucid Air, first with Derek Jenkins, VP of Design, then with Peter Rawlinson, CTO and Head of Engineering.
Lucid is different from just another EV
Is every new electric car company just another Tesla competitor? At the headquarters of Lucid Motors in Menlo Park, CA, they say absolutely not.
Lucid believes what’s out there today has just scratched the surface of what driving an electric vehicle can mean, and that’s what so unique and exciting about the brand’s future. With the Lucid Air, their introductory model, they are targeting a market which they believe is currently not addressed – the luxury electric vehicle, the definition of which, we’re about to get into. They see this luxury space evolving and changing rapidly, and want to own and define that space before anyone else.
Their initial targets include a progressive US consumer who ideally puts sustainability and technology at the top of their shopping list. China is a big target as well, where traditional heritage brands don’t have that strong of a culture, and consumers are very much influenced by the latest and greatest. China is also much more accustomed to a chauffeur culture, and would really embrace Lucid’s approach to the passenger experience.
At Lucid, they’ve given birth to a future-forward vehicle, with the freedom to forge new paths, unencumbered by history and tradition, and the design flexibility afforded by an electric powertrain. Lucid’s design and ethos is reminiscent of its California roots in innovation, styling, design, and technology.
There’s a powerful team behind Lucid. CTO and chief engineer Peter Rawlinson was formerly the Vice President of Vehicle Engineering at Tesla and Chief Engineer of the Model S. His previous position as Chief Engineer at Lotus ensures that he brings the driving experience to equal importance to the technology and engineering of the vehicle.
VP of Design – Derek Jenkins – previously hails from Mazda as the Director of Design, having led the design on the latest MX-5. There are many more impressive resumes that make up this Lucid team, which instills a great deal of confidence in the strategic direction of the company and execution of the vehicles.
What exactly is the luxury EV experience?
Let’s break down the definitions here. The electric part we get, but what exactly defines a luxury car? Lucid argues that price point alone does not translate to luxury. Tesla vehicles are not very spacious inside, and lack the traditional luxury experience. Tesla themselves have never presented their image as a luxury vehicle. They’re first to market with the technology, which you’re paying a premium for, but it’s not built with the intention of luxury.
In the traditional mindset, a luxury car is a large, heavy-looking vehicle, probably in black…with an emblem on the hood that represents decades of history, a spacious interior lined with leather and expensive looking trim, enough straight-line performance to get in trouble, a ride supple enough to render inner-city streets smooth, and handling that won’t cause sea-sickness when you turn the wheel. There’s also an increased focus on electronics and technology that is geared toward the business traveler.
Luxury is a total sensory experience (or lack thereof). It’s not about getting from point A to point B. It’s about the experience of how you get there. Lucid intend to go head-to-head with the flagship sedans of the traditional luxury brand like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, and others. They are out to capture the customer interested in a full-size luxury sedan but who is turned off by major segment players who haven’t yet switched to fully electric powertrains. From that standpoint, Lucid believes that there currently does not exist a fully electric, luxury vehicle on the market, as the production offerings available all fall short.
One of the unique things about Lucid is that they are not just focused on elevating the driver’s experience, which is mostly what car companies try to sell you on. You’re used to seeing ads that paint a picture of that driver’s experience behind the wheel–the comfort, exhilaration, and endless buttons, gadgets, and screens at your fingertips in a sleek command console. Lucid puts a focus on the passenger experience just as much as the driver experience, looking to capitalize on the burgeoning rideshare industry.
For many, part of the luxury experience of being in a car is actually not driving, but riding along as a chartered passenger. These are the users of limos, black sedans, and rented town cars. Ridesharing services like Uber offer a premium “black car” option for these consumers. Also, as autonomous technology becomes more of a reality, passenger experience will be the primary focus. Lucid’s strategy looks at both a current niche consumer base, as well as the future that they envision the market will be.
Design and Aesthetics
Derek Jenkins and Peter Rawlinson both voiced that the design and engineering at Lucid walk hand-in-hand, defining what good aesthetics should be. They collaborate on new projects to derive new shapes that work in harmony with the applied technology and engineering.
Lucid is in the process of preparing their first production model, a mid-size luxury EV sedan called the Air. There will be two rear seating configurations– a traditional three-seat layout, or two executive-style loungers found in a top-tier full-size luxury sedan.
Imagine you get into something the size of a Mercedes-Benz E-class sedan but inside, it feels almost like a limousine. In the Lucid Air, the spaciousness of the interior is something you simply cannot comprehend being in any vehicle of that size. Based on the expectations that have been set from decades of experience sitting in vehicles, I felt like I’ve stepped into a magic closet and ended up somewhere else than where I started. There seems to be more rear seating room in the Lucid Air than in a full size Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7-Series.
In both the bench seating and executive configuration, I felt like I was in first class seating on a luxury liner. Imagine the possibilities for changing the experience of long-range drives, either as a second passenger, or in the rapidly approaching age of self-driving cars. I thought about how that would have changed my graduate school days, commuting back and forth between Santa Monica and Palo Alto once a week, and how much more cramming or napping I could have squeezed in on those 5 to 6 hour drives.
Once you’re inside the Air, look above you. The roof is electro-chromic glass that can be turned down to one-percent light transmittance. Two coatings on the glass protect the passengers and regulate temperature. The first is a coating on the outside that blocks all UV rays. A second coating reflects radiant heat and keeps things cool, at least on the temperature side. It’s not without any radiant heat, of course, but it is well regulated. For those who prefer a solid roof over their heads, the traditional metal roof is standard.
The interior lines are clean, elegant, and minimal. Interior packages and appointments are available in both real and synthetic leather, with a range of 12 exterior colors. They’ve designated several interior packages named after locations in California – Tahoe, Mojave, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica.
At the Wheel
I have sat in and test driven many cars and I have to say that this is the first car where I got in the back seat before I got in the driver’s seat. But once I was there behind the wheel, the fun continued.
I’m a person who pays attention to small details, especially ergonomic detail. The moment I put my hands on that steering wheel it was a sensual experience for the hands. Some of you might find that description ridiculous, but the steering wheel for me is the first and primary place where I engage with the vehicle, and provide inputs into the drive. The material has luxurious tactile feel, accentuated by the flat angled contour of the interior of the wheel. It allows me to place my thumbs perfectly on the wheel for control, either in a relatively relaxed state, or while actively engaged with steering.
The instrument panel is intuitive and easy to navigate,. The super high-res infotainment center connects you with the vehicle’s numerous options and functions, from temperature and ride control, to charge and battery information, to weather and navigation, to ambient lighting. It’s a highly personalized driving experience.
The vehicle recognizes the driver by phone, so the transition of the details and preferences from driver to driver is instant. All the expected technological functions like multiple power ports and connection to third party apps (Apple Car Play, Android Auto, etc.) in native format are there, and there will also be functions like an inductive charging tray.
One of the issues that electric cars run into (including the Model S) is that the battery needs to be cooled down, especially as a result from sustained high-speed driving. In addition to an extremely high-output cooling system, Lucid places twin blowers in front of the front bulkhead, and double-isolated mounted the compressor on the front motor. These strategic fan placements along with an added noise cancelling technology should make the Air potentially the quietest production car ever made.
Standard Lucid Air starts at $52,500
•400 horsepower (rear-wheel drive)
•Autonomous driving hardware
•LED multi-lens array headlights
•Four screens, with interactive-touch surfaces on three
•5-seat configuration with a rear bench seat
•10 advanced airbags
•Over-the-air software updates
Lucid AIR Launch Edition cars will be the first 255 cars off of the production line. These cars will be very well optioned as standard and will be priced over $100,000.
Launch Edition Additional Features
•0–60 mph in 2.5 seconds
•Autonomous driving hardware
•21-inch Lucid-design wheels
•Upgraded audio system
Some features, such as the rear executive seats, cannot yet be confirmed for early production. Launch Edition cars will also have unique colors and badging, signifying their special nature.
VIDEO Introducing Lucid AIR
In summary, there will be no shortage of technology, aesthetics, and function in the Lucid Air, coming together for an incredible experience for the driver and passenger alike.
Come back to read the next part in the series:
Jeany Zhao joins us as Contributing Editor. She is an automotive enthusiast from youth, spending time whizzing around local California tracks in her Cayman S and carving up canyons in her free time.
She has worked in pit reporting for the IMSA racing series since 2013, and thoroughly enjoys being around the intensity of race crews, taking in the sweet scent of racing fuel in the air, and seeing the joy of victory and heartbreak of defeat in pit road.
Her corporate background is Research & Technology, and she owns businesses in the automotive industry. She resides in Santa Monica, CA with her Siberian Husky.