A new automaker pulled aside the curtain in Silicon Valley, revealing its name as Lucid Motors and showing off its prototype car, a premium electric sedan. The company previously existed under the name of Atieva, where it got its start developing battery packs for electric vehicle applications.
Impressively, in just two years of development the company is so far along with its first vehicle that it already has a body-in-white, an automotive term for a welded sheetmetal body.
As part of a limited media gathering where photos were prohibited, I visited the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters, where it has secretly been developing its launch model. Along with seeing the body-in-white and a 90 to 95 percent complete version of the car, Lucid Motors showed off the car's components, from the electric drivetrain to interior design concepts.
Greeting me at Lucid Motors were two of the company's luminaries, Chief Technology Officer Peter Rawlinson who includes Tesla and Jaguar on his resume, and Vice President of Design Derek Jenkins. In Jenkins previous position at Mazda, he designed the latest generation of the MX-5 Miata. Other members of Lucid Motors' staff came over from Tesla.
When I asked for the name of Lucid Motors' electric sedan, Rawlinson demurred, saying that would be announced at a later date.
Lucid Motors builds on Atieva's battery research. The company's patented lithium-ion battery chemistry shows significant resistance to degradation over high power charging cycles, an important ingredient for electric cars. It also claims 20 percent greater energy density in its batteries than competitors, due to its cooling and power-control technologies.
With its battery technology and a dual-motor system developed for the launch car, Rawlinson said it will get well over 300 miles of range, and that the company is considering a 400-mile version as well, much as Tesla sells models with different ranges. He also said the car, which will use a motor at each axle, could likely get to over 200 mph, although the production vehicle will have its speed limited.
Under the name Atieva, the company has released video of its test mule van, which it calls Edna. This van uses the dual-motor system, with total horsepower adding to 1,200, although for stability reasons that amount has been restricted to 900 horsepower. Still, it gets to 60 mph in 2.69 seconds. Rawlinson says that the sedan will weigh about 1,000 pounds less and have much better aerodynamics, so is likely to be even quicker.
During my visit, I got a ride in Edna and experienced its breathtaking acceleration on a freeway on-ramp.
Lucid Motors isn't ready to release charging times for its upcoming sedan, although Rawlinson said it will accept DC fast charging, as the car is being developed with the idea it might be used in a sharing economy, getting the kind of use seen by taxis and car services today. The question of which fast charging standard to use, CHAdeMO or J1772 Combo, remains unresolved at the moment.
In designing the sedan, Jenkins said that he wanted something with a mid-size footprint, similar to a BMW 5-series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but with cabin space equaling that of a full-size car, such as a 7-series or S-Class. The electric drivetrain, which is less restrictive on space than a combustion engine and transmission, allowed him to realize that goal.
The car has a low, short front-end, as it does not need to house an engine. A glass canopy covers the roof, allowing a tremendous view of the sky, while front and rear passengers enjoy copious leg and head room. Rather than a four-door hatchback, like the Tesla Model S, Lucid Motors' car shows more of a sedan stance with a modern edge.
Taking advantage of modern technologies, the car has LED headlights up front, but these are unique in that each light uses what Rawlinson calls micro-lenses, 6,000 of them on each side. This lighting array allows minute adjustment and fine shaping of the light field.
Lucid Motors has already come up with three schemes for the interior design, inspired by early morning in Santa Monica, midday in Santa Cruz and midnight in the Mojave desert. In fact, Jenkins has embraced what he calls a California DNA for the car, defining it in relation to national reputations for car brands from the UK, Germany and Italy. That move seems reasonable, as California has a reputation distinct from the US and is globally known.
Along with all the development described above, Lucid Motors has also gone a a long ways towards developing other aspects of its car. For example, the infotainment system will have four OLED screens and have natural language voice command. It will also support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and have a built-in data connection the company can use to send out over-the-air software updates.
Similarly, Level 5 autonomy, which means full self-driving capability, is being built into the car, although how it will be enabled depends on what the laws allow when it reaches production. The sensor suite includes solid-state LIDAR, radar and cameras.
Lucid Motors intends to do its own manufacturing in the US, and is currently scouting sites, narrowing it down to a few states. Rawlinson said the company will need another round of funding to get manufacturing up. As for sales, it will follow Tesla's model, taking orders on its website and possibly opening showrooms in different locations.
When I ask if Lucid Motors will be challenging Tesla for customers, Rawlinson points out that electric cars make up a tiny percentage of the luxury market. There should be plenty of room to take customers from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.