In a past life, Peter Rawlinson developed the Tesla Model S, one of the most iconic cars of the 2010s. These days, he’s taking on quite a different role: chief technology officer of Lucid Motors, an aspiring Tesla competitor.
Lucid’s prototype vehicle is the Lucid Air, which is billed in marketing materials as a “private jet on wheels” and will set you back more than $100,000. At a Los Angeles promotional event for the vehicle on February 11, Rawlinson showed off its highlights—acceleration that jumped from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds, two electric motors with 1,000 horsepower, fully reclinable back seats, tablets, and touchscreens, an Alexa-style voice control system, noise-canceling technology inside the cabin, and a host of LIDAR and radar sensors for future autonomous driving opportunities.
Rawlinson boasted about the car’s technology and the company’s plans to get vehicles to customers starting in 2019. Lucid is currently accepting refundable deposits for the Air ranging from $2,500 to $25,000. The audience at the L.A. event consisted of a large number of Tesla and electric car enthusiasts (at least two guests cracked jokes about the parking lot being “a sea of Teslas”) along with media and industry-watchers.
Until late last year, Lucid was known as Atieva, a company that got its start manufacturing batteries for electric buses and drivetrains. According to the Guardian’s Mark Harris, two Chinese firms purchased an almost $100 million stake in Lucid: state-owned automaker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding (BAIC) and LeEco, which made its own splashy introduction to the U.S. market in late 2016. This past October, the company rebranded as Lucid after Recode obtained public documents with details of their new car. Other investors in the company include Venture Rockefeller and Mitsui & Co.
As for Lucid, it’s following the Tesla playbook by premiering a high-end electric car as its initial model. The company’s top brass includes more than its fair share of ex-Teslaites. In addition to Rawlinson, cofounder Bernard Tse (who departed the company in 2015) is a former Tesla VP, and its heads of sales, marketing, and supply chain are all Tesla veterans. Their engineering team includes many former Tesla employees as well.
The Lucid Air makes for an exceedingly fun test drive. As I rode in an engineering prototype as a passenger, the car accelerated to 50 miles per hour almost as soon as the driver stepped on the gas pedal. It flawlessly made hairpin turns in a parking garage, and the inside was amazingly roomy—for an electric car, at least. Even though this was a prototype in camouflage with many of the car’s passenger bells and whistles stripped out, the sheer space the interior offered was impressive.
Still, Lucid faces an uphill climb: Tesla has a lock on the luxury electric car market in the United States, and doubters have to look no further than the current troubles of Faraday Future (which has investors in common with Lucid and also its share of ex-Tesla employees) to see what can go wrong for electric car startups. Lucid has to reassure customers that they will have their vehicles in 2019, and that there will be a robust charging network in place—and that’s just for starters.
According to Lucid, the company plans to build a $700 million manufacturing plant in Arizona, which will begin production in 2018. Lucid also announced a battery partnership with Samsung this past December. Some 255 units are planned for customer sale in 2019, with the highest-end version, the “launch edition,” selling for approximately $165,000.