After a protracted campaign of teaser images, technical tidbits and performance demonstrations, Californian EV startup Lucid has finally opened the order books for its first model – the Air.
If you’ve been following the company’s hype trail, you’ll already know how fast the luxury sedan goes, and a bit about its battery, as well as how far it can go on a single charge. But the company has delivered a whole flurry of new information about its first model at the Air’s official launch in the US.
Coinciding with the 170th anniversary of California’s formation, and World EV Day, the Lucid Air is now available to order in North America with the first deliveries expected in early 2021. If you thought the company’s first car gives Tesla something to worry about before its launch, just wait until you read Lucid’s latest revelations.
How much does the Lucid Air cost?
In a bid to make the biggest splash, the Air makes its debut in range-topping Dream Edition specification for a starting price of US$169,000 which is about $233,000 in Australian dollars. For their cash, the first American customers will get the most potent version of the Air including the dual drive motor transmission for all-wheel drive, fed by a 113kWh battery and 0-100km/h acceleration in about 2.5 seconds, says Lucid.
It’ll also crack the standing-start quarter mile in 9.9 seconds – the launch date of the 9/9 is just a coincidence, apparently.
Production preparations are in the latter stages at the Lucid factory in Arizona and the first examples will start silently rolling off the lines early next year.
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About the middle of next year, a second Grand Touring version will come online priced from US$139,000 (A$191,000), and it will be followed by a US$95,000 Touring (A$131,000) at the end of 2021.
Finally, in 2022, the Air line-up will be completed by a new entry level version dubbed simply the Air, priced from less than US$80,000 or about $110,000 in Australian money.
For comparison, Tesla’s Model S ranges in the US from about US$80,000 to US$120,000 or A$148,000 – A$167,000 in Australia.
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Below the halo Dream Edition, the Grand Touring will get 597kW, Touring versions will have 462kW and the company has not detailed the entry level Air power. Drivetrains that will be supplied in the more affordable versions have not been detailed, but the company has explained its flexible and modular architecture enables one, two or even three motors to be fitted along with batteries of widely varying capacities.
The range will not be presented in conventional showrooms but in spaces Lucid calls ‘studios’ in a bid to revolutionise the car retail experience. It’s a similar model to other brands such as Genesis in which customers feel more relaxed in a less sales-lead environment. If that’s still too much, a purely online purchasing process is also available.
At the heart of the Air, a sophisticated battery and drive motor system offers scaleable and flexible powertrains. While the range-topping version has the biggest battery, its modular lithium-ion packs are ‘like Lego bricks’ and can be assembled to produce less expensive and lighter battery units.
Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson explained there was no point pursuing “dumb range” with ever-increasing batteries that become prohibitively heavy and expensive. Instead, the former Tesla engineering vice president said Lucid focuses on “smart range” and the optimum balance of capacity, power, size and weight.
Lucid’s battery technology and efficient power management has allowed the Air to set a new EV benchmark in single-charge range and an independently verified range of more than 830km.
The company is obsessed with miniaturised components and has managed to produce a drive motor and gearbox unit that, at 73kg is both smaller and lighter than any of its rival’s equivalent hardware, according to its maker.
In a different form, its battery technology has already undergone extensive testing in the unforgiving arena of motorsport. Lucid’s battery manufacturing division Atieva is the exclusive supplier to the Formula E championship and the high-performance units have experienced zero failures over the entire 2019 season.
Unlike all other EVs on the market, Lucid uses a 924-volt electrical system. It’s this step that imparts many of the Air’s headlining potential including performance and charging.
With the correct infrastructure, the Air can be pumped up with enough power for a 480km cruise in just 20 minutes. US owners will benefit from the emerging Electrify America charging network that offers public charging stations across the nation and a three-year subscription to the service is included with a new Air.
While Tesla’s are more limited to the company’s network of Superchargers, Lucid has gone for a more agnostic approach with more charging possibilities when on the fly – pun fully intended.
Key to the Air’s versatile charging options is the charmingly named Wunderbox – an advanced battery management system (BMS) and onboard charger, which is not just more efficient than many systems (as much as 6.4km/kWh) but also enables a number of versatile power options.
Bi-directional charging allows the Air to be charged rapidly, but the vehicle can also be used as a charger itself. In the event of a power interruption, owners can use their car to provide power to the household or even charge another Lucid.
Other clever tech
The Air’s nose is filled with the company’s Micro Lens Array headlights which use the latest LED technology to project an intense and directional beam but using only solid state components. It has also resulted in the narrowest headlight aperture of any vehicle to date.
It’s a similar story at the tail end where a single-piece tail light lens spans the entire width of the Air and contains more LED technology - conversely, it’s the largest of its kind.
Customers can use the Lucid smartphone application to preload the Air with journey information including destination and climate settings. On approach, the car recognises the owner and initiates all their predetermined settings.
Once inside, a 12-volt Ethernet system manages data with high levels of redundancy for top security of the driver’s information and fast processing throughout the various digital displays. If Tesla’s enormous central touchscreen offering is a little overkill for you, Lucid’s version seamlessly slots away into the dashboard.
Two versions of the second row will be offered with a more conventional bench seat as standard or an optional Executive Seat that offers two luxurious seats that recline. Interior colour and trim options were inspired by different Californian locations at different times of the day. The Dream Edition gets Santa Monica at dusk.
Look closely and you’ll find a number of bear images hidden about the Air cabin similarly to Jeep’s Easter egg surprises and as a nod to California’s state flag.
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Lucid is yet to crash test its first model but it assures potential customers it has been designed to pass the American NCAP testing with five stars. A special carbon fibre passenger cell combines with numerous airbags and many of the modular components have been dual-purpose designed to lend structural impact strength as well.
As you might expect, the Air is mass of sensors including radar, lidar and cameras. The networked matrix of hardware enables plenty of driver assistance systems including a remote parking function and there’s even a camera that monitors the driver for attentiveness. It also enables certain functions with a simple glance.
While Lucid says its cars will soon offer escalating levels of autonomy its approach to driverless technology couldn’t be more different to rival Tesla.
Lucid is making no claims as to when the first levels of autonomy will be rolled out, but it says it will offer the technology to customers for no extra charge as soon as it is available. Tesla on the other hand is sticking to its claims of full autonomy this year and will charge Australian customers more than $10,000 for it.
Read next: Tesla self-driving tech gets more expensive
At this stage, Lucid has not revealed if it is planning an Australian presence in the near future. But if this intriguing Californian startup really wants to give Tesla a hard time, you can be certain it will be assessing all global market with a fine-tooth comb.