2021’s Top Ten Tech Cars: Lucid Air

Go fast, go far, go green

3 min read
Image of the 2021 Lucid Air.
The Lucid Air packs plenty of raw, all-electric power, but it does so with finesse, setting new standards for efficiency.
Photo: Lucid Motors
Peter Rawlinson, who'd been the chief engineer for Tesla's Model S, is ready to launch his Lucid Air from a factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., this spring. From a lot that Rawlinson called “bare earth," a US $700 million factory sprang up in less than a year, with a capacity for 30,000 cars a year. And that's just Phase 1.

Lucid Motor's streamlined luxury sedan has thrown down an electric gauntlet, including a $139,000 Grand Touring version with an EPA-rated driving range of 832 kilometers (517 miles). That's a historic high for any electric car, exceeding the Tesla Model S's 402-mile mark by the distance from New York City to Hartford, Conn.

Base Price:

US $69,900

(After a $7,500 U.S. Tax Credit)

Apparently, it just might take a former leading light at Tesla to leapfrog the electric efficiency of Elon Musk's vaunted vehicles. The Welsh-born engineer and founder of the California-based Lucid is used to comparisons with his former Silicon Valley employer. But he insists the Air has bigger game in mind.

“Please don't describe us as 'Tesla killers,' " Rawlinson pleads in an interview. “We're part of the same movement toward sustainable transportation. But this is a luxury car to compete with a Mercedes-AMG S-Class or a BMW 7 Series. And they can't match our performance. Not even close."

Even though the Grand Touring version had to sacrifice some power to achieve its extraordinary driving range, it still has 596 kilowatts—that's 800 horses—to power dual motors and an all-wheel-drive power train. The top-shelf Dream Edition, at $169,000, supplies a boggling 805 kW and a claimed 2.5-second surge to 60 miles per hour. Fitted with 21-inch (53-centimeter) wheels, it gives up 8 percent of its range compared to what it would get with standard 19 inchers.

In August, the Dream Edition stunned the auto world with a quarter-mile (0.4-kilometer) drag run at California's Sonoma Raceway, at 9.9 seconds and 144 mph. That's slightly quicker than the magnificent Porsche 911 Turbo S, one of history's fastest gas-powered sports cars. The Air is also imposingly stretched, a full-size luxury sedan with a glass canopy, eucalyptus wood, and platinum trim. Under the long hood is the roomiest front-storage “frunk" of any EV, at 0.28 cubic meters, or 9.9 cubic feet.

By the end of this year, Lucid plans to unveil a $95,000 Air Touring model with 462 kW (620 hp) and a 653-km range, a bit more than Tesla's 647-km Model S Long Range Plus. A $77,400 Pure model is slated for early 2022, with 358 kW (480 hp), all from a single rear-axle motor, and a 653-km range target. There's a $7,500 federal tax credit for all U.S. models, which means the most affordable version will go for $69,900.

For all the Lucid's accelerative feats, to hear Rawlinson tell it, high performance is just a nice side effect. “Ninety-nine percent of the words I speak are about efficiency," he declares, having long railed against “dumb range" obtained by jamming in ever-heavier batteries.

He's backing those words. The company is squeezing out range via clever battery-thermal management and power trains developed in-house. The 113-kilowatt-hour battery pack stores only 15 kWh more than Tesla's, but it crushes the Tesla's range by giving 4.6 miles of range per kilowatt-hour—10 percent higher than Tesla's best. The compact drive unit, which integrates a motor, transmission, and inverter, weighs a mere 74 kilograms (163 pounds).

A Lucid will leave the factory with 32 sensors, including ultrasonic, external and driver-monitoring cameras, and lidar (take that, Tesla). That's enough to allow Level 2 semiautonomy, akin to the Cadillac Super Cruise or the Tesla Autopilot. The company plans over-the-air updates by roughly 2023 that it claims will bring hands-off, eyes-off driving, also known as Level 3, which is something no showroom car has yet achieved.

Rawlinson says he's also competing on how fast his car can recharge. The Air's class-topping 900-volt-plus architecture allows lightning-fast refills at 300 kW, enough to provide 300 miles (483 km) of range in 20 minutes. Compared with the 800-V Porsche Taycan, Lucid says its higher-voltage architecture can deliver superior battery-discharge efficiency, and potentially faster recharging as direct-current stations become even more powerful.

“The customer doesn't care about the race of electrons," Rawlinson says. “What you want to know is, how quickly in miles is that car charging?"

Lucid's final challenges include opening a network of 20 North American sales “studios" (that's showrooms to you) by year-end. And also expanding that factory until it can churn out 400,000 cars a year. Throwing a bit of shade at his old boss, Rawlinson expresses confidence.

“I tend to keep my promises," he says with a smile.

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