Lucid Motors Reveals Their Tesla-Killer—But Is it, Really?
The company’s software remains the most important question, but everything else? Looks like they nailed it.
The stench of "mobility" was pierced today, as California-based Lucid Motors revealed the Air, a stunning $100,000+ electric sedan hailed as a "Tesla-killer."
But is it?
The answer is no, because the Lucid Air is deliberately in a class of its own.
First, the Lucid Motors Air is gorgeous. For the first time since the release of the Tesla Model S, we have a clean-sheet design for an electric sedan that doesn't include stupid neon green or blue accents to indicate environmental cred. The Air isn't some Wall-E inspired, emasculatory blob on wheels penned by the guy from The Kooples. Primed by last year’s stillborn Faraday reveal, I walked into the Lucid event ready for disappointment, but when the spotlights fell upon the Air I joined the crowd of reporters quietly mouthing "Yeeeeeeees."
Lucid's "luxury mobility" messaging may resemble Tesla's, but that's only because Musk was first to recognize the hinges upon which a startup car company must swing: 1.) you must launch with a premium product; 2.) electrification, connectivity, and autonomy will be ubiquitous.
With the Air, Lucid wisely chose to one-up Tesla, not by trying to build a better Model S, but by moving "luxury mobility" even further upmarket. The top-of-the-line Air is targeted at the Model S customer who wants more interior space and luxury, doesn't want an SUV, and is willing to spend $160,000—or approximately 10 percent more than a loaded Model X.
California-based and Chinese-backed, Lucid Motors has delivered a brilliant execution of a French dream, a cutting edge sedan with E-class exterior dimensions and S-class interior space, resembling the supermodel daughter of a Citroen XM and Renault Safrane. Two French wrongs have somehow yielded one multinational right, for the Air's packaging, design, and technology should make the legacy car manufacturers weep.
Did I mention that wonderful, Aston Martin-like floating aluminum roof?
Duplicating Tesla’s battery-as-floor-plan layout, the Air’s twin motors, suspension, and HVAC are even further optimized to save space, greatly expanding the passenger compartment in length and height. Driver and front passenger space are excellent, and two rear seat configurations will be available: a better-than-decent 3-seater, and a stunning twin recliner option straight out of Emirates First Class (though the latter cuts the trunk space in half).
At least you get a frunk.
Then you have the really wonderful headlight array. Simple, clean, perfect.
The interior is as gorgeous as the exterior, a hybrid of Volvo’s best concepts packaged in Fisker’s color palettes, albeit with better materials and touch points. The dashboard is also wonderful, eschewing Tesla’s single massive display for a KITT-style, function-specific four-screen layout, including an iPad-sized display that folds into the center tunnel to reveal more storage. The central cluster takes Tesla’s situational awareness display and increases it in size by at least 25 percent, which is absolutely essential for safe and effective use of semi-autonomous features like Autopilot. Someone must be reading my articles here at The Drive. Bravo.
Did I say how much I love this car?
Look at that massive glass windshield and roof, which—unlike Tesla—will ship with adjustable tinting. For $160,000, it better. Something tells me Tesla will respond.
Pay no mind to the 1000 hp and 400-mile range figures dominating today’s clickbait Lucid coverage. Those numbers are for the top-of-the-line, 130kWh version for $160,000, due “sometime” after the initial version expected in 2018, which is supposed to ship with a 100kWh battery good for 300 miles. In terms of powertrain, a Tesla-killer this is not. More like Tesla parity, which will be fleeting. Who knows what Tesla will be shipping in 2018? The Model S can be had with a 100kWh battery right now, and once the Gigafactory is online, we can expect further improvements. Of course, even temporary parity with Tesla would something, because Porsche’s Mission E isn’t due for one to two years beyond the Air.
Performance specs for premium EVs are irrelevant, anyway. A P100D will do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds. I did it in the one I borrowed from Tesla to drive to the Lucid event. Impressive, but sickening, So what if the 2018 Air will do that? It’s a talking point for people who can’t afford one.
No, the most important features are the ones that are invisible, and this is where Lucid couldn’t kill Tesla even if it wanted to, at least not according to anything I heard today.
Tesla’s ecosystem has three environments outside the car: charging infrastructure, direct sales and support, and networked autonomous driving. A 300-mile EV needs a high-speed charging network for long trips; only Tesla has one. Lucid Air passengers aren’t going to like Chargepoint or Blink stations, even if they were fast, even if it was 400 miles between charges. What about direct sales and support? I didn’t hear any talk of vertically integrating stores, but with a product this appealing, I suppose Lucid could raise the money.
The big one is autonomy. The Lucid Air’s autonomous driving hardware includes six radar units, a ring of cameras, and LiDAR. Yes, LiDAR, making the Air’s sensor suite better than anything on the market—including Tesla’s—if the Air came out tomorrow. Will that remain true when (and if) the Air arrives in 2018? Who knows? Even if it is, autonomous hardware is worthless without software. Tesla’s is the best on the market, and gets better every day their 175,000-plus cars are on the road, collecting and sharing driving data back to the Tesla cloud.
Lucid needs an autonomous driving tech partner, and sources tell me they’re working on it. I hope that partner is Google, because having driven almost everything else, I don’t know who else has anything worth licensing. Tesla’s not going to sell theirs, and George Hotz doesn’t have enough. How will Lucid sell a luxury EV two years from now if it doesn’t have autonomous parity with Tesla? How will anyone?
The Lucid Motors Air is a home run in a stadium waiting to be filled, and for that they should be very proud. A lot can happen in two years. The market needs a new player. Lucid is following in Tesla's footsteps, using the latest technology to create new segments. I’m rooting for them, and you should be, too.
Alex Roy, entrepreneur, President of Europe By Car, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, and author of The Driver, set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in a BMW M5 in 31 hours & 4 minutes, and has set multiple driving records in Europe & the USA in the EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.