Lucid Air First Ride | Our closest look yet at the $139,000, 517-mile EV

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After an eight-year odyssey and frustrating delays, Lucid Motors (finally) has what it takes to enforce an electric claim in America: cars, an Arizona factory, 2,000 employees, and a growing network of “studio” showrooms. . All Lucid needs now are customers, including New Yorkers who have pricked curious heads at the automaker’s newly opened studio in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District.

It doesn’t hurt to park a Lucid Air right outside, in gallery white paint that emphasizes the fresh lines, dramatic Glass Canopy and distinctly electric approach. I’m here for a shotgun ride in one of about 110 pre-production models that rolled off the assembly line in Casa Grande, Ariz. The electric sedan, which will boast 1,080 horsepower in its top-end Dream Edition form, seems “so close” to production, with cars currently undergoing final validation for software, workmanship and road testing. Lucid executives are determined to avoid pandemic delays and to produce fewer than 1,000 cars by the end of the year, including an initial run of 500 Dream Editions. The company claims it has over 10,000 fully refundable reservations.

“We would have loved to have cars in customer hands earlier this year,” said Derek Jenkins, the former Mazda designer and Lucid’s Senior Vice President of Design & Brand. “But it’s important to get it right, not to put in a car plagued with problems. We only have one chance to make a great first impression.”

Next year comes the real test, with Lucid targeting production of 20,000 cars and recovering sales of $2.2 billion. The target of 20,000 units is an ambitious number for any high-end luxury car, let alone an electric newcomer: The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, typically America’s best-selling model transacting above $100,000, has less than 20,000 in America. units sold in one year since 2015. Mercedes found about 12,500 buyers of the S-Class in 2019, and just 6,600 in a pandemic-ravaged 2020.

To get there, Lucid capitalizes on the Air’s luxury, performance, spaciousness, and EV efficiency, including the $139,000 Grand Touring model I’ll be riding today, good for 800 horsepower and 517 miles of range. If the EPA agrees, that would be the longest range of an EV in history. Air Pure and Air Touring models ($77,400 and $95,000, respectively) will follow, which will align more financially with Tesla’s Model S. Exactly when those more affordable models will arrive is a topic of great interest, with Lucid now say they will hit showrooms sometime in 2022.

The Pure and Touring versions (with 480 or 620 horsepower) use single-engine, rear-drive powertrains with an estimated range of 406 miles, unlike the twin-engine AWD Grand Touring and Dream Editions. Lucid hasn’t settled a destination fee, but every Air is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, in addition to state or local incentives.

“We’re trying to get the people in transition,” from fossil fuel models that still hold 97% of the market, Jenkins said. “It’s elegant and distinctly electric, but not so futuristic or jarring that you’d alienate a traditional Benz or BMW buyer. We want them to see a nice car and say, ‘I’d like to replace my petrol car with that.’”

To close the deal, Lucid’s Manhattan studio has a nude rendering of the Air’s electric skateboard platform. Side-by-side car seats are equipped with HTC virtual reality headsets for sales prospects. With Zak Edson, Lucid’s Senior Director of Retail Operations, wearing a headset, I configure a virtual Air with a particularly beautiful background, parked ashore at the Golden Gate Bridge. I watch the sedan’s virtual ‘Pilot Panel’ console screen retract and unfold from the dashboard; and admire a high-resolution 34-inch, 5K curved display, the Glass Cockpit. (It’s actually three separate panels, including two touch-sensitive units that book the driver display).

Lucid strategically places its studios in busy areas with high foot traffic, including some shopping malls. The New York studio is Lucid’s eighth, with locations in Chicago, Boston and Phoenix expected to open by the end of the year and a total of 25 by the end of 2022.

“That covers about 90% of America’s major EV markets and demographics,” Jenkins said.

Lucid plans to open service and delivery centers to support each showroom, including one in New Jersey for New York area owners. As sedans have fallen sharply out of favor since Lucid’s inception in 2013, the company plans to add a mid-sized electric SUV to its lineup by 2023. It will be based on a “Project Gravity” concept that it aims to show next year, with an exterior footprint comparable to a BMW X5 or Audi Q8.

As we leave the virtual world, it’s time for a real-life ride, with a Lucid tech at the wheel. The Air makes a legitimate luxury impression, even if the cabin suggests “$80,000 car” more than “$160,000 car.” The Air leans toward a familiar, sleek EV aesthetic, but with superior materials and build quality you’d find in Tesla’s Spartan neighborhoods. That includes the optional “Santa Monica” interior, with rich woods, real metal and a pleasant textile and upholstery that combines alpaca wool and recycled plastic fibres. Nappa leather remains available. This early-built car doesn’t have a radio or navigation system plugged in, but the huge screen displays, part of the Lucid UX interface, seem ready for their close-up. On-screen controls replace some traditional analog switches, including for the seats and glove box; although there’s an oversized volume knob and hard switches for temperature and fan speed, all welcome.

As advertised, the rear seats offer plenty of head and leg room, although the seat cushions are positioned closer to the floor than in most luxury sedans, and there’s no foot room under the front seats. Executives said that single-motor models, with smaller battery packs of about 90 kilowatt hours (versus 113 kWh in AWD models), will carve out a deeper “foot garage” in the back. No complaints with the folding rear seats that offer enough room for a 6-foot surfboard, accessed through a distinctive clamshell hatch opening. And its huge 10-cubic-foot frunk is one of the largest in the industry.

A short shotgun ride isn’t a substitute for a test drive, but it’s enough to get us excited for an upcoming test. Is the Dream Edition really fast 2.5 seconds to 60 km/h? And how about that claimed, 9.9-second quarter mile, enough to hit 144 mph in the space of five New York blocks? Again, hard to say. But the Lucid’s driver seems to anticipate my thoughts and shows off some impressive, unnerving bursts of electric acceleration on the West Side Highway.

The Air’s ride feels on the brisk side over Manhattan’s battered sidewalk; a much vaunted air suspension has been shelved for now, replaced by conventional springs and semi-active shocks. But the drivetrain is graveyard quiet and extremely strong. The Newark, California-based company, led by Welsh-born CEO Peter Rawlinson (famously, the former chief engineer of Tesla Model S), sees internal engineering development as a key competitive advantage. That includes a compact powder keg of an electric drive unit — engine, transmission, converter and differential — that weighs just 165 pounds and could fit in a carry-on bag. Or, as Edson points out, lighter than the 289 cubic-inch V8 engine in the ’68 Mustang he owns. Rawlinson claims that a single unit could eventually deliver more than 670 horsepower and 4,400 pound-feet of torque. AWD models have two units. You do the math.

The Lucid’s industry-leading, 900-volt electrical architecture — versus 800 volts in the Porsche Taycan and 400 in Teslas — enables ultra-fast DC charging, restoring a range of up to 300 miles in 20 minutes flat, or up to 20 miles per minute. The “Wunderbox” charging unit is designed for bi-directional charging, allowing a Lucid to power a home during a power outage, store home energy (via housing units now on the market), or send juice back to the utility grid to offset peaks . The company is also developing its own energy storage systems (ESS) for commercial and home use.

We don’t get a chance to play with the Lucid’s driver assistance features, which I suspect aren’t fully operational either. But the company is touting 32 built-in sensors, including the industry’s first true Lidar unit and a driver-monitoring camera, for Level 2 or even Level 3 semi-autonomy.

With the impatient eyes of industry, the media and Wall Street all over Lucid, the company has bought time and a financial lifeline through a partnership with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) called Churchill Capital IV. Such “blank check” shell companies have become a popular way to raise capital and go public for EV companies, including Nikola, Fisker and Lordstown Motors. The merger, which Lucid is now expected to complete in the third quarter, will bring in $4.5 billion in new funding, including $2.5 billion from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that will own approximately 85% of the company. The maneuver gave Lucid an initial “pro forma” valuation of $24 billion. That dwarfs the valuations of Nikola, Fisker and Lordstown, which are each below $4 billion. In other words, investors have more faith in Lucid than those other three start-ups combined.

Like Tesla before it, Lucid — politely known as “income-free” in financial parlance — expects to burn hundreds of millions of dollars more before it turns into something resembling a profit. But Lucid’s optimism includes an expected annual sales increase of nearly 200%, starting with $2.2 billion next year and culminating in sales of nearly $24 billion by 2026. Lucid expects to sell nearly 50,000 cars by 2023 and by 2030. even 500,000. , which of course requires more factories.

For certain people, the crucial detail of the merger is Lucid’s Nasdaq ticker symbol, which switches from “CCIV” to “LCID”. As with Elon Musk’s insanely prized Tesla, the list reminds us that trading has arguably become as important as kicking tires: when people are impressed by the Air after a studio visit and choose to buy stock in rather than a sedan, Lucid probably won’t matter.

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