Originally published on CleanTechnica.
By Nicolas Zart
In a previous article on CleanTechnica, I dissed the Lucid Motors Air introduction as yet another electric vehicle (EV) hypercar. Boy, was I wrong! An EV hypercar it is, and a real one at that.
Hot on the heels of Faraday Future’s second odd CES presentation for its FF91, the Lucid Air seemed like yet another unobtainium hyper-EV. I missed a few points I’ll clarify here. Last night, Lucid Motors introduced its wild EV called the Air to a bewildered crowd at the Los Angeles Petersen Museum. We took a ride in it and it is anything. but. vaporware.
The Lucid Motors Air Is The Next EV I Was Waiting For
As journalists, we are used to throwing hyperbole around, as much as receiving it from companies. It’s sometimes hard sifting the wheat from the chaff. And chaff, there is plenty of. Add to this how difficult it is to communicate the feeling you experience when a car’s feel, performance, and sheer power sends adrenaline and other happy chemicals into your bloodstream.
But I’ve driven and ridden a lot of cars over 50 years. Some were downright impressive; others, not so much. You don’t always get the thrills you once had stepping into a new car. Much like no one can recapture the initial Wow factor of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, great new cars are far and few between. It’s hard to outdo the initial Wow factor driving your first Ferrari, Aston Martin, Tesla Model S P90D, etc. It’s normal. You get jaded.
Last night, the test ride in the Lucid Motors Air rekindled something I hadn’t felt since the official unveiling of the Tesla Model S P90D. It was a serious Wow factor.
Lucid Motors Air is very different from its competitors in many aspects. In essence, the team has about 15 years worth of battery pack designing experience. Its founders helped write the book on batteries, battery management, and the electric drivetrain with their early pioneering work at Tesla. It’s easy to dismiss Lucid Motors Air as a somewhat working prototype next to a long line of official unveilings from other startups. But with about a decade of experience in battery systems — Atieva (now Lucid) was founded on December 31, 2007 — the company is delivering an impressive car. I found out the Lucid Air not only exists, but its performance is simply jaw-dropping wild.
After talking at length with David Moseley, the Director of Powertrain at Lucid, about battery technology, electric motors, and, of course, Lucid’s technology, it’s obvious Lucid Motors not only has the abstract expertise but also the credentials and experience putting it all together. After all, David and Peter Rawlinson, Chief Technology Officer at Lucid, were some of the brains behind the development of the Tesla batteries and Model S, as well as the Roadster adventure. When they left Tesla, they brought with them all of that.
I also had candid talks with Peter, who enthusiastically explained what they were aiming for with the Air. What Lucid Motors is focusing on at this stage is powertrain, aerodynamics, and autonomous driving. And Peter knows what he knows and knows what he wants. The Air delivers on its performance luxury promise beyond expectations.
The Lucid Motors Air Is A Performance Luxury EV, No Apologies
My talks with the Lucid Motors team was refreshing in so many ways. I found an eager lineup of engineers, designers, and car folks who are excited about what they created. I got a sense of the dynamics of the team, the respect they have for one another and their constant interaction with each other while working.
Although a small team of
fewer than 1,000 around 300, Lucid Motors designed an impressive chassis that can handle a 1,000 HP, 745kW drivetrain in luxury. Lucid also managed to fit the Air on a footprint the size of an Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. Where engineering really outshines the competition is that the interior size is about as large as a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-series. The difference with these cars is the contrast between the front driving space and the very spacious passenger area behind. It felt as if luxury Maybach style is sitting on a Ferrari.
Within that chassis, Peter was able to mold the battery pack from the front of the car, to underneath the two front seats, to all the way behind the rear seats. Although this seems normal for an EV, most lay out the batteries evenly flat on the floor. The problem with this design is that it takes up space length-wise. Instead, the Lucid team decided to design the interior of the Air and then place the batteries as low as possible, thus not encroaching on the cabin space.
But the similarities with other EVs stop here. The front is an ergonomic driving pleasure. Everything falls right where it needs to be and you are immersed in a three-angle digital console display. Special thanks to Joann Jung, Senior Manager Interior Design, and Sue Magnusson, Manager CMF Design, who communicated so well their passion for designing the interior of the car. Joann wanted the Air to be a luxury vehicle that stands out from the competition while instantaneously developing your own personal connection to it. In many ways, the succeeded. Yes, I want one, or two — heck, maybe three in various colors, tones, and shades.
Sue is credited for the interior color palette. Since we are talking about a Californian car, the interior colors should evoke the landscape. California is richly diversified. The south is arid and the north lusher. The deserts have earthly tones. The interior colors match that of the state. The Air offers a different front and back color combination, highlighting the driving experience from that of the back passenger luxury feel. I was pleasantly surprised to see felt, suede, and other textiles we hardly find in cars anymore. Kudos to Lucid for that added tasteful flair.
Below the driving console lies a generous iPad Pro–size display above the central tunnel, much like the Model S. The Air has a wooden strip that stretches front to back between the four seats. It’s very reminiscent of what a Maserati, Bentley, and Aston Martin atmosphere.
The front seats are well aligned and geared for the driving aspect of the car. Behind is where we step into the luxury world, rightfully the luxury part. Much like a Mercedes Maybach, the back seats recline. They recline more than in a Maybach. A testament to its engineering is that the Air is lower than a Model S, as well as thinner. But you wouldn’t notice this sitting inside it. It is as spacious, if not more.
The niceties don’t end there. Air vents are masterly crafted in plain sight without being intrusive. Lighting can be changed from the central display and accommodate any hour of the day. And to think that this is their first shot at what an EV can do makes me eagerly wait for what else they will come up with.
Connected and autonomous driving has been thought of since inception. In fact, I caught Peter more than once referring to the future of cars as shared riding and Uber-like shared ownership. It makes sense, considering this is where the automobile industry is heading now that it seems to have figured out a business model around it. You will find two thin ailerons on the back brushed aluminum top of the car hiding two GPSs for better positioning and velocity reading.
The Lucid Motors Air Test Drive
I had no expectations stepping into the Lucid Air mule driving passengers outside the Petersen Museum parking lot. It was camouflaged. The interior was spartan. It was raw with four seats, a steering wheel, and plenty of electronics dangling around. I liked that part a lot because it showed a lack of pretension from the company. There were no apologies. What you see is what it is. This is a mule. This is it. How refreshing! Apologies for the audio part of the video. Sadly, my mic decided to retire that evening. I was left with the video camera’s onboard mic.
I knew I had to hold the video camera about as steady as possible. I had heard the car screech starting and coming to a stop. However, nothing prepared me for the oomph it displayed taking off in a straight line. If anyone can accelerate fast in a straight line, I wondered how would it manage the first turn? The Air wound its way up a spiral ramp access to the higher level of the parking lot … at 25 MPH, with absolutely no body roll. We weren’t brutalized jerked around either.
The Air managed the power distribution on a less than perfect parking lot surface without any problem. We slalomed through a few obstacles and dove right into the opposite downward spiraling ramp access to the lower level. Much like a roller coaster dips and dives, the Air dipped and managed the downward glide without scaring us. Of course, we must thank master driver Damian Harty, who is the Director of Suspension and Steering Systems, for handling the car perfectly.
What surprised me was to find out the car had done 20 such rides previously. The Air was capped at less than 40% of its full power capacity. And wait, it gets better. It was riding on off-the-shelf Pirelli tires. I was told no one had really worked out the ideal pressure yet. In fact, it doesn’t sound as if the chassis is completely sorted out yet. If this is what this car delivers now with 60% of its full power disabled and the above mentioned, then I can only imagine what it will produce later.
Stay tuned for part 2 …
Reprinted with permission.