Information & Communication Technologies

Lucid Joins the Electric Luxury Party with the “Air” – A Viable Tesla Killer?

by Praveen Chandrasekar 21 Dec 2016
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I have never been fascinated much with new car launches as the sales pitches can get really boring but a new brand launch is something I got to experience last week. December 14th 2016 witnessed the unveiling of a new electric vehicle brand “Lucid Motors” with its roots in the US, inspired from everything California and the blending of three distinct characteristics ranging from ultra-performance, sublime luxury and suitable for urban commuting, all in a single vehicle aptly named “Air”. Having a distinct brand philosophy is critical for any maker aspiring to leave a mark in the luxury side and in Lucid Motor’s case it was a simple one – recreating the executive jet experience within four wheels. Another rationale thrown in for the triad of characters absorbed in a single model was to simplify the complex model lineup that exists in the current luxury market, a statement that is exemplified by the variety of alphabetical classes and body styles offered by the current slew of automakers.

The vision for this new brand is to offer a luxury experience with no compromises driven by the convergence of key technologies such as electrification, autonomous driving, connectivity and new mobility, all embodied with the spirit and emotions of the automobile with elegant, futuristic yet simple design.

Lucid Air – In Lucid Motor’s own words Performance, Sublime Luxury & Minimal Effort

Introducing the overall design language and the model was Derek Jenkins, VP of Design for Lucid Motors who formerly held senior design positions at Mazda North America and Volkswagen of America. The name Lucid is testimonial to the vision of making the car better with the parallel of replicating an executive jet experience based on advanced electric powertrain. The first model “Air” cuts across a few vehicle segments on its design with exterior dimensions similar to a Mercedes Benz E Class, interior space equivalent to that of an S Class and the emotional quotient similar to the CLS.

Next up on stage was the CTO Peter Rawlinson who was formerly the Chief Engineer on the Tesla Model S who gave us a complete run down on how the “Air” was conceived from a technology perspective and what sets it apart from its competition. Some of the key specifications and differentiators of the Lucid Air are

  • 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds with maximum power of 1000 horsepower
  • Standard 100 kWh battery that provides a range of 300 Miles with an optional 130 kWh battery pack that tops the 400 Miles range. Samsung SDI is the main partner on the jointly developed cylindrical lithium-ion cells for the first model “Lucid Air”. But conversations during the launch with the Lucid Motor’s team also indicated partnerships with other key battery players.
  • Key strengths of the model are the electric powertrain, aerodynamics and the advanced technology content like fully autonomous capability (L4).
  • Creating a superior roominess feel with a glass canopy roof dubbed Lucid Glass that will be offered as an option.
  • Fully integrated motor and transmission system developed in-house and housed in a condensed fashion allowing more power density than competition. The resultant solution also allowed Lucid Motors to create significant rear space where the executive jet style seating comes in.
  • Rear executive seats with up to 55 degrees of recline will be offered as an option. This will be packed into the $160,000 launch edition models and continued to be offered as an option going forward. Normal bench rear seat will be offered in the base model.
  • Precise handling using an air suspension system combining air springs and active regenerating valve technology combined with low center of gravity.
  • Interior materials, finishes and trims are inspired by different locations in California like Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz, etc.
  • Adaptive front lighting system utilizing thousands of micro-lenses creating an ultra-slim lighting system that mimics insect eyes and improves energy efficiency beyond 50 percent.
  • Finalized Casa Grande, Arizona as the location of its factory where production is expected to begin late 2018 with deliveries beginning in early 2019.

From a technology and content perspective, Air is pretty impressive model that will give the Tesla’s and BMW a run for their money. Some of the key features include

  • Array of safety sensors including two long range radars, four short range radars, three front cameras with different field of views, five surround view cameras, two long range LIDAR and two short range LIDAR and an in-cabin driver monitoring camera that gives the Air complete L4 automated driving capabilities at launch. And the vehicle demo that I got to be a part of also showcased the autonomous capability (on a cordoned off road section) and it performed almost seamlessly. The Lucid team was also quick to point out that even though the vehicle will come fully equipped with L4 automated driving capabilities, the real offer will be dependent on regulations and state-level acceptances. This array of sensors is impressive and since this is a $160,000 vehicle the price tag for the sensor array is justifiable.
  • The real show stealer for me given my background and interest in connected cars was the way the infotainment, HMI and content experience has been conceived. An array of 4 immersive displays dominate the cockpit starting with a small display to the left of the cluster that is used to operate the vehicle controls like door locks, etc. In the line of sight of the driver is a reconfigurable cluster which can be tweaked and customized by the user and one of the functionalities is a support system for the driver when the automated driving mode is activated. Then the main central display which is the center of the content aggregation and the infotainment experience. The last display is a retractable screen (similar in size to the 17 inch beast in the Model S) which can be used to interact with and customize all the other displays. Four displays and a complete touch experience similar to Tesla seem a bit much but the content integration and user experience was the saving grace. Unlike conventional OEMs who rely completely on suppliers and third party providers, the experience in the Lucid Air was completely developed internally and it features natural voice interaction with contextual content that utilizes user preferences understanding using machine learning algorithms. The whole experience I saw during the demo was unlike any current navigation or infotainment experience and in summary was not apps integrated in a smartphone in the dash format but experience that is suitable for the driving environment and highly connected.
  • The audio experience on this vehicle will include a gigantic 29 speaker system with 12 beam forming microphones that aid in the natural voice interaction with the vehicle (aiming to recreate an Amazon Echo experience with the car) including active noise cancellation.
  • Lucid Air will also feature similar to a Tesla and other OEMs a smartphone application that will allow the users to check on the charge, communicate with the vehicle, and remotely operate many features including setting charging times, etc.

Where the Air Stands vs. the Competition

Tesla is the best thing to have happened to electric vehicles. Tesla proved that electric vehicles are not necessarily the ugly boxy designs with limited driving range and was instrumental in creating an immersive luxury experience centered on electric powertrains. In a very short time Tesla has created an amazing brand led by a dynamic CEO who continues to innovate with offerings around solar panels, etc. This success of Tesla is what is giving confidence to startups like Lucid Motors, Faraday Future and NextEV to take a plunge and focus first on the ultra-luxury segment where margins are higher and volumes can be controlled given the limited production capabilities. In the last two years the space of electric luxury mobility has picked up so much steam that it is getting difficult to separate the hype from reality. Here are some observations though

  • A very interesting story that I discussed with one of the team members at Lucid Motors was how even a leading premium brand like BMW failed to make sense of this EV race. Even when they first introduced EV’s it was on the Mini brand and they deliberately kept it out of the BMW stable and eventually created the sub-brand i that hasn’t been anywhere close to a success. The failure to associate electric powertrains with a rich and powerful driving experience is what led a bunch of customers to go the Tesla way and what they experienced is testimonial to the results. In 2015 Model S was the largest selling luxury vehicle in that class (compared to S Class, 7 Series, etc.) in the US. After having seen Tesla’s success now most premium brands are racing towards massive EV commitments and this includes everyone from Mercedes Benz to Audi to BMW to Porsche to Volvo. But the race is not just with conventional OEMs but with these new entrants who are funded well and are not afraid to take risks with futuristic bold designs and really advanced content. And if you look closely most of the leadership team at Lucid Motors and for that matter Faraday Future are ex-Tesla or ex-German OEMs.
  • The key differentiator for Lucid Motors for now is not the driving range but the interiors and the engineering that’s gone behind creating that much room in a mid-size vehicle and with the executive jet style reclining seating, which will allow them to sell this more in Asian markets that are chauffeur-driven. Many industry experts who have sung praises of Tesla still believe that the interior and technology experience can be far superior. And compared to the conventional OEMs this experience is much better than the 7 Series and S Class and others in this segment.
  • The technology elements in the cabin even though bold might create some issues with consumers especially the array of four displays. For customers transitioning from a BMW or Mercedes Benz to Lucid Motors this experience will be dramatically different and one that will give them a steep learning curve. But the content integration and the infotainment experience might be the most seamless one can get and again dramatically different from current set of offerings. And on the autonomous side the biggest differentiator between Lucid Motor’s approach and Tesla for example is the inclusion of LIDAR but in terms of ability to do fully autonomous (L4), it is pretty much the same. But again compared to conventional OEMs who are focusing on L3 this is a giant leap.
  • In terms of head to head comparison with Tesla Model S the maximum range offered by the latter is 315 miles on the P100D variant which could be similar to the base option on the Lucid Air. If Lucid Motors does introduce the 130 kWh battery with 400 miles range then it is a deal breaker as Tesla CEO Elon Musk indicated in his tweets that the company will not look beyond a 100 kWh battery. Both models are similar on the 0-60mph acceleration in 2.5 seconds and the infotainment content and user experience barring the three additional screens on the Lucid Air is also very similar so is the fully autonomous capability which Tesla recently showcased and will start offering on upcoming Model S dubbed as the self-driving hardware. Tesla does offer subtle features like adaptive front LED headlamps, electric All-wheel drive, air suspension system and an internally developed infotainment and navigation experience centered around one giant 17 inch touch screen.
  • The launch edition models that Lucid Motors aims to start shipping in early 2019 with a price tag of $160,000 and an initial deposit of $25,500 is far higher than anything that Tesla offers currently. Given that the plans of other competitors like Faraday Future (expected to unveil their production model in CES 2017) and Next EV (rumored to be working on a compact electric SUV with luxury capabilities at an affordable price) still grey Lucid Motors has a head start as the most serious Tesla competitor. Lucid Motors has also mentioned that eventually there will be a $65,000 model but didn’t divulge any details around that. Model 3 could be the game changer for Tesla if it is able to commit to the production schedules and timelines and that is getting into the volume game where Lucid Motors has no plans as of now. And let’s not forget that there are alternatives like Karma Automotive who are trying to push a hybrid electric powertrain on the ultra-luxury space with its first model the Revero that will retail for $130,000 soon in the US market.

In summary Lucid Motors as a purely electric luxury company could give the Model S stiff competition but given that Tesla is spreading its model line up slowly but steadily and also getting into the volume game with the Model 3 the company might end up competing with conventional OEMs more. Lucid Motors can also expect stiff competition coming from the German OEMs and other current players who despite being late now have a firm eye on the electric luxury space. The next 3 years are going to be interesting to see if Tesla is able to live upto its commitment on the Model 3, Lucid Motors delivers its launch edition Air’s and what emerges from the stables of Faraday Future, NextEV and Karma Automotive. That is four new startup automakers, something I haven’t seen in my limited stint as an automotive consultant.

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