Lucid Takes On Tesla With New Luxury Sedan

Yesterday Lucid Motors revealed its anticipated electric car with over 400 projected miles of range, blistering acceleration, and intentions to exceed anything Tesla has to offer.

The nearly decade-old Silicon Valley startup, formerly known as Atieva, said the Lucid Air “executive class” sedan will create a personal luxury jet “experience.” Mixed in are elegant and sophisticated high-resolution computer displays, state-of-the-art autonomous driving capabilities, and upscale aircraft-style seating.

The company said it hopes to begin production in late 2018 at a $700 million factory to be located in Arizona. Pricing is expected to mirror Tesla’s Model S with well-optioned variants of the 1,000 horsepower all-wheel-drive EV to sell for over $100,000 in a formula now becoming familiar of establishing the brand with a showstopper to start with, and an eye toward down market cars to follow. A $65,000 EV is to eventually be next to follow, the company said.

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Lucid, whose core team has only 300 employees, aims to one-up key features found in the Tesla Model S or X with this avante garde first production vehicle, while emphasizing a more traditionally luxurious interior versus Tesla’s minimalist styling. Lucid’s Chief Technical Officer, Peter Rawlinson, previously lead the engineering development of the Model S while at Tesla Motors. Vice President of Design, Derek Jenkins, formerly led Mazda’s North American design center.

It remains to be seen how Lucid will survive the fierce competition from the better-established Tesla. It will also face an increasing number of premium electric vehicles with 200 to 300 miles of range coming from major European automakers beginning in 2018.

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But the Lucid Air makes a play at setting a new standard in EV luxury performance.

For example, the rear two-seat design can recline up to 55 degrees. An air suspension design that inverts the usual engineering to place the springs closer to the wheels makes space for the twin rear seats to dive back. An alternative conventional rear bench seat for three passengers provides ample legroom and increases trunk storage.

Natural materials including leather and textured woven fabrics are expected in several design themes inspired by California environments like the Mojave desert, the Santa Monica beach and Lake Tahoe. Other superlative features include an optional glass roof, and a 29-speaker audio system with active noise cancellation to hush away outside noise.

Twelve beam-focused microphones positioned throughout the car allow any passenger to use the vehicle’s natural language voice system to make navigation and infotainment requests with improved accuracy in a manner similar to Apple’s Siri.

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The headlight design uses 10 discrete rectangular lamps, each consisting of 487 micro-lenses that are gimbled to stay on target through the ups and downs of winding roads.

The driver’s cockpit includes a beautiful angled surround information display made from three separate OLED screens integrated behind a wide continuous glass screen. Both the left and right displays are touch sensitive. The design features an uncluttered and adaptive user interface that aims to provide 80 percent of infotainment information in the rightmost display while driving. The lower 12.4-inch center console screen is relegated to showing configuration options and other detail intensive information. Over-the-air software updates will allow Lucid to improve the car’s features and capabilities over time.

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The entire body structure is aluminum including some areas like the middle B-pillar where even Tesla reportedly uses high-strength boron steel for reinforcement on the Model X. Front and rear AC induction motors achieve 12-percent better power density than existing industry designs. A new compact differential gear directs power to the wheels with spur gears instead of conventional bevel gears.

The company recently announced that it has collaborated with Samsung SDI to develop next-generation cylindrical battery cells with both high energy and power density. In an interview yesterday, Albert Liu, Lucid’s director of battery technology, emphasized that the Air will use battery cells specially designed for resilience during high-speed charging in order to minimize energy capacity loses over the lifetime of the car.

The initial battery pack sports 100 kilowatt-hours to provide more than 300 miles of range but a planned-later pack with 30-percent more energy should be good for around 400 miles. Unlike Tesla’s essentially flat “skateboard” pack, Lucid intends to vary the stacking of its cylindrical cells to gain high energy storage while allowing a deeper floor well for rear passengers.

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The prototype cars used for test rides at the introduction event utilized standard J-1772 charging inlets. Executives noted that the company is a member of the CharIn consortium working on updating the SAE Combined Charging System (CCS) specification to support faster charging that can meet or exceed today’s Tesla Supercharger network.

Battery and drivetrain engineers at the drive event said the company’s first product would adhere to today’s prevalent 400-volt designs during charging, and at the battery pack and motors, but would otherwise push the boundaries of the forthcoming upgrade of CCS. That specification update, expected next year, will roughly match Tesla’s Supercharger network by allowing up to 350 amps of DC charging current and charging rates near 120 kilowatts. Porsche has said its future Mission E sports car will use double that voltage to charge at rates well-beyond 150 kilowatts.

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A brief test ride around Lucid’s Fremont, Calif. prototyping center showed off the car’s impressive acceleration although it was software limited to just less than half of its ultimate capability.

The autonomous driving system, still under development, was also demonstrated using cameras and other elegantly integrated sensors to allow hands-off driving around curves and into the parking area. 

Ultimately, Lucid intends to include eight cameras, four lidars, and six radars for autonomous driving. Ultrasonic sensors will help provide parking assistance features and at least four other cameras will be dedicated for surround vision during low-speed driving.


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