Lucid CEO On Tesla, Batteries And Our EV Future

Electric Vehicles / 9 Comments

Peter Rawlinson came from Tesla, and is using what he learned to beat it at it's own game.

Lucid Motors is one of the newest EV players on the scene. It's first car will be a sedan called the Lucid Air, which promises more than 1,000 hp in the most expensive models ($161,500) with deliveries starting in the first half of this year. A few weeks ago, Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson said that he wants to see a day when $25,000 EVs are the norm. He didn't promise a $25K EV from his company in particular, but said that is where ubiquitous electric adoption lies

"I delivered a keynote address where I shared my viewpoint that a $25,000 EV would magnify the positive impact EVs can have on the environment and humankind. I further stated that it is technology, and not a myopic focus on battery costs, that will allow the industry to achieve a highly efficient and more affordable EV," Rawlinson said.

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Lucid's plan instead is to double battery efficiency. We asked Rawlinson if that was something Lucid is working on right now, and to go a little deeper into the technology.

"The crucial factor people are missing completely is efficiency. The key issue here is not the cost of battery energy per se, it's the cost of creating an EV with a given amount of range. That cost of range equals the cost of battery energy divided by the efficiency as in how far the car can travel for a given amount of battery energy," said Rawlinson.

"We develop our technology in-house and we have a relentless focus on efficiency. Our approach is based on the concept of "smart range" - going an incredible distance on a single charge carrying the smallest possible battery packs. We're achieving four and a half miles per kWh with the Air. If we can get to six miles per kWh, we can reduce the size and cost of the battery required to go a certain distance. Improvements in efficiency will enable widespread mass adoption."

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The EPA has given the Air an estimated 517-mile range on a single charge for the Grand Touring trim. The less expensive Lucid Air Pure has a projected range of 406 miles. Lucid says the Air is also the world's fastest-charging EV. With a DC fast charge, the vehicle can achieve a charging rate of up to 20 miles per minute.

All told, that's 400 miles of range in just 20 minutes. That's great, but your average American buyer can't afford $160K EVs. The average American buyer can't afford an $80,000 EV either. But manufacturers seem to reveal and release the most expensive versions first.

"There are a number of reasons for doing so. As Lucid's first product, the Air defines the brand and sets the bar for excellence across all Lucid products and experiences. It's extremely important that we start at a high-end position in order to establish Lucid as a true luxury brand," said Rawlinson. "We would dearly love to make a truly affordable model. However, there is a paradox that the more affordable the car, the greater the up-front investment required to make it happen."

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Rawlinson notes that because Lucid is a small company, the investment in making a mass market car would have been prohibitive.

"The company invested money into all the electric motors, power electronics, on board chargers and battery modules, setting benchmarks for performance and range, to demonstrate to the industry and the public what is possible with an electric vehicle."

Those range and power numbers are impressive, even for the most die-hard combustion engine fans. The Air's 2.5- second sprint to 60 mph will best anything south of a million-dollar hypercar.

"There is no binary tipping point; as costs reduce, market uptake of EVs will increase. I firmly believe that $25,000 could well represent the point where there is virtual 100% EV adoption in the marketplace," said Rawlinson. "Getting EVs to such a price point is going to take a continued technology focus and Lucid is already well along that path even today.

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Rawlinson was the chief engineer on the Tesla Model S after landing at the company in 2009. He moved to Lucid in 2013 as chief technology officer and was appointed CEO in 2019. His time at Tesla taught him many lessons he's bringing to Lucid.

"My initial task after joining Tesla was to retroactively fit all the technical bits into the Model S exterior styling shape, which had already been created by the design studio before I'd arrived. It was a pretty interesting intellectual puzzle to design a car from the outside inwards, although an awfully flawed approach to designing a car. It was so clear there was a better way to do this," said Rawlinson.

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He wanted the electric powertrain to be more compact so the company could create "a new type of car that could be smaller on the outside and larger on the inside." He also realized the advantages of doing everything he could from inside the company.

"The benefit of designing, developing, engineering, and manufacturing our EV powertrain technology in-house was obvious from the outset. This led us to build the first dedicated greenfield production site in North America. Doing so not only enabled us to build a production facility of our own design, but perfectly positions us for future growth."

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The next vehicle from Lucid will be the Gravity SUV. A fitting name after Air. And Rawlinson is already adjusting the company's process. It seems the company's platform will be doing the heavy lifting.

"We are currently developing the Project Gravity SUV and applying lessons learned as we plan and explore a whole range of product possibilities based on the Air's LEAP platform. That said, our technology is designed to be highly scalable and modular for both power and energy, creating opportunity for a wide range of potential applications."

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That wide range of applications doesn't just include electric vehicles. The company has some other irons in the fire as well.

"A future of sustainable energy goes beyond just electric vehicles. In terms of what's next, Lucid is developing static Energy Storage Systems (ESS) using its in-house battery, power electronics, and proprietary Battery Management System (BMS) software technology to develop the building blocks of advanced energy storage," Rawlinson said. "This way, Lucid can contribute to a world where sustainable storage of energy will have tremendous advantages for peak power usage, balanced grids, cost savings and - most importantly - for the environment."

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