"Peter ... I'm working for this guy called Elon Musk, and we are in deep s - -."
That's how the phone call from Tesla model manager Dave Morris to engineer Peter Rawlinson began in 2009, when Morris needed help working on the prototype for a new electric car. Eventually, he lured Rawlinson to work at Tesla Inc., where he developed what became the most successful electric sedan to date, the Model S.
"On the Friday of my first week at Tesla (in 2009), I had a meeting with Elon," Rawlinson, now chief executive officer and chief technology officer at Lucid Motors Inc., tells me. We're sitting in the company's new Beverly Hills, Calif., showroom on Aug. 20, separated by six feet and masks. The 15,000-square-foot space, a former McLaren dealership, features arched bow trusses stained in cherry above polished cement floors. We sit on a low, leather couch where prospective customers will sit, as a dozen Lucid staffers in black polo shirts hover nearby.
Rawlinson says that, after his first few days at the company, the fiery Tesla chief asked him what he thought of the Model S.
"Elon says, 'How bad is it?' I say, 'Look, you're going to have to cancel it,'" Rawlinson recalls. "He says, 'What! It's that bad?' 'It really is,' I say."
Rawlinson completely reconfigured that first Tesla prototype, and then some. The production model debuted in 2012. Eleven years after he joined Tesla, Rawlinson boasts that his name is still on more than 70 patents associated with the car.
Now his having developed the Model S is being leveraged to boost something that - if Rawlinson has his way - could spell the car's demise: the Lucid Air, an electric sedan that boasts significantly more range and power than the Model S.
Set for its debut via a live-to-the-public video feed on Sept. 9 and slated to become available next spring, the $150,000-ish Air is aimed squarely at acquiring customers from Rawlinson's former employer. (A "Dream Edition" Air will cost $161,500 after federal tax credits; the "Grand Touring" Air will cost "in the low $130,000s after federal tax credits," a spokesman says; and Lucid will also produce a sub-$100,000 "Touring" model in late 2021.)
Lucid "got (financing) very much based upon my track record with the Model S," Rawlinson tells me. "It was felt that, yeah, if I could have done that, then we could do it again and take it to another level."
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