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How Lucid Motors plans to spin Tesla-killing strategy out of Air

By Hannah Elliott, Bloomberg News on

Published in Automotive News

All told, Lucid will open nine such showrooms nationwide, mostly in New York, California, and Florida. Customers will be able to purchase an Air at a showroom, says Designer Derek Jenkins, or order one online. Rawlinson says total production for the first calendar year will be from 7,000 to 8,000 units. Once full production levels are reached, the number will be closer to 34,000 under the current factory-floor configuration, with three work shifts daily.

The Convenient Comparison

As much as they hope to strike out on their own, Tesla looms large whenever you talk to the leadership at Lucid. The presumption is that the Lucid owner will be someone who appreciates nice things and is interested in alternative fuels but can't stomach the fabrication inconsistencies (poorly matched body panels, shoddy build quality) and interface quirks (touchscreen failures) at Tesla.

But Rawlinson would rather align his car with another, more analog model. He says the Air is for "someone who has an S-Class Mercedes who says: 'Ten years ago, I wouldn't have been that interested in electric. Tesla has piqued my interest, I love what Tesla is doing with electric, but I'm not getting out of my Mercedes for a Model S.'"

Electric cars do well when compared with a combustion counterpart if they look and feel similar enough, because the power and efficiency are invariably better. At Polestar, the comparison comes with partner company Volvo; it's no mistake that the upcoming Polestar 2 evokes the Volvo S60. At Porsche, the electric Taycan bears the same "Turbo" name and branding as the highest-priced, highest-powered 911s. Although it lacks an actual turbo under its hood, the Taycan achieves more than 700 horsepower and reaches a 162 mph top speed - more power than a top-of-the-line Porsche 911, if not quite as fast at top speed.

At Lucid, the comparison and (would-be, hoped-for) competitor is the S Class, Mercedes-Benz's flagship sedan that still lacks an electric variant. ("We are working toward that eventually," Mercedes USA President Philipp Skogstad tells me, noting that S Class customers aren't "asking for" electric technology in the large town car.)

The Air's exterior design certainly lacks the S Class's stately elegance. (The man who designed the Air last designed the Mazda Miata.) And how it feels to drive one, compared to the S Class, remains untested. Bloomberg's tech and transportation reporter, Edward Ludlow, rode in the back of an Air in August, but test drives won't happen until the first or second quarter 2021.

Here is what we do know about the car's specifications: The four-door Air makes 1,080 horsepower and has a driving range of 517 miles under perfect conditions. Those figures decimate those of Tesla's Model S, which claims 503 horsepower and 348 miles in its highest variants. (The average range for electric cars released in 2019 was 183 miles, according to BloombergNEF, and will reach 235 miles for 2020 models.)

The Air will reach 60 mph in less than 2.5 seconds - nearly the same time as the $3 million Bugatti Chiron. Lucid spokespeople claim the car's 9.9-second quarter-mile time is good enough to qualify it as the world's quickest four-door electric vehicle.

 

The extreme horsepower comes from dual electric drive units (one on the front, one on the rear), which each make up to 650 horsepower. (There is some discrepancy between the total horsepower rating and the single max power emitted by each unit; a Lucid spokesperson said it is due to "driveline and electrical losses.")

Inside, the Air has a slim dashboard devoid of buttons and knobs, a center console that seems to hang suspended from its station point between the front seats, and a glass panoramic roof that swoops from the top of the car's hood to the stunted rear. Jenkins points out to me that the 280-liter space in the front portion, where the engine would normally sit (they call it the "frunk") is the largest ever offered in an electric car. All told, the car has 739 liters of luggage space, beating most conventional sedans, too.

Lucid has partnered with the Electrify America charging network in the U.S. The Air will be able to add 300 miles in 20 minutes, using a station's 350 kW charging capacity.

When they actually make the vehicle, that is. Rawlinson knows better than anyone that he'll have to produce something more than showrooms if his engineering project is to have staying power.

"Words are cheap," Rawlinson tells me that day in Beverly Hills, standing sandwiched between a rack of battery cells and an Air chassis known as the skateboard, exposed to show off its construction. "All of this sounds like bullshit. We are nothing until we've got anything into production."

The Lucid Air will be unveiled via public live stream on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. East Coast Time.

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