Lucid they may be, but they’re not exactly transparent.
The buzzworthy Bay Area car company, which makes engines for electric Formula One racing, appears to have leapfrogged Elon Musk’s line of Tesla electric cars. The Lucid Air EV unveiled in a Wednesday afternoon livestream (and finally price-tagged at $80,000) has an EPA-reported range of 517 miles, instantly turning the 400-mile-range Tesla Model S into yesterday’s news.
But a literal cloud hung over the Lucid factory and HQ in Newark, California the day the Air was unveiled. Smoke from forest fires well within any EV’s range covered the Bay Area in a sunless orange pall. It was both horrific and somehow appropriate for the unveiling, given that Lucid’s press event for the Air — held weeks earlier but embargoed until this moment — was almost as obscuring as the smoke.
For one thing, Lucid offered no test drive of their Tesla-killer. Not even a ride-along was included in the two-hour schedule. Which was especially odd, given that I spoke to a potential Lucid Air buyer who got a thrilling ride-along in a Lucid prototype — back in December 2016.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a car since racing go-karts as a teenager,” enthused Jos Boumans, a San Francisco tech executive who’s driven plenty of Teslas. “As with any good luxury road racer, you feel it come alive as the speed climbs… the bite [how much the car sticks to the road while accelerating] felt good.”
According to Lucid, this is the only electric sedan that can go a quarter mile in under 10 seconds. Boumans couldn’t confirm distance or speed — the car was so new in 2016 that there wasn’t even a speedometer on the dashboard, but it was clearly screamingly fast. “It has the art and science of F1 written all over it,” he says. “If you ever fantasized about speeding along the panoramic highway, taking those winding turns at high speed, I’d do it in a Lucid over any other car.”
And how did the Tesla S feel in comparison? “Like a really nice Prius,” said Boumans dryly, damning with faint Prius praise. (He didn’t end up justifying a deposit to himself, given that it was four years ahead of time and he’s a city dweller who never needs to drive, but suggested he’d pay $80,000 — without knowing that was the actual sticker price Lucid was about to unveil.)
So why not give the media a taste of that highway-hugging power? Why leave any doubt about whether this car is vaporware? “We aren’t scheduling any press drives until we can get production-representative examples of the Lucid Air built at our new factory in Casa Grande [Arizona, in early 2021],” replied a Lucid spokesperson — a response that didn’t exactly address the “why,” but suggests that caution is endemic at this secretive company.
Granted, 2020 is a difficult year to unveil any new product. That much was clear at the press event, the first I’ve been to since the pandemic began, and definitely the first where PR reps issued Lucid-branded masks and Lucid-branded hand sanitizer at the door. The day was one of extreme stage management as I was whisked from one end of the factory, which handles all the design work (as opposed to the production), to another.
I saw…a lot of stuff! I was ushered inside the van that Lucid will send in case of repairs, in order to see that it had a coffee machine. I wasn’t allowed to touch the VR headsets that customers will use to see what their car will look like with various trims. I spent longer than anyone should being ushered around a display cabinet of inspirations for these pastel-shaded trims, named Apple-style for different areas of California. (Who wants to buy a $80,000 electric car based on the fact you can get interior trim in a smoky color based on Mojave at night?)
The fact that the whole event was held indoors was especially strange, given that coronavirus transmission is less likely outdoors, and given that this was a beautiful sunny day before the wildfire smoke descended. There were two apparently race-ready Lucid vehicles sitting out front of the HQ, next to a vast and curvaceous parking lot.
Ah, but the outdoors would have made the absence of any kind of driving at a car event even more glaring. I already got to sit in the car with a Lucid employee, both of us masked. Would driving around have presented any kind of infection potential? Probably none more so than talking with Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson. The former chief engineer at Tesla, Rawlinson is a fellow soft-spoken Brit, and I had to lean in far closer than six feet to hear him as we wandered the showroom.
“It’s like a TARDIS,” is what Rawlinson was saying, a reference that gladdened my nerdy heart. He’s right — the Lucid Air prototypes we were allowed to sit in really felt bigger on the inside. The use of space is extraordinary. It’s a combination of the tinted sunroof that seems to swallow the whole top of the car, the wrap-around dashboard screen, plenty of legroom, a very recessed glove compartment, and seats that are designed for maximum comfort at minimal size.
But as any Who fan like Rawlinson knows, the defining feature of the TARDIS is that the Doctor just can’t wait to take you for a spin in it — even if it isn’t exactly 100 percent shipshape. The Lucid Air, meanwhile, will remain earthbound and un-test-drivable until next year. If you haven’t already pre-ordered, the base model won’t be available until 2022. As a new customer next year, you should be able to buy “Touring” and “Dream” editions with bells and whistles, which will run from $95,000 to $169,000, not counting any potential federal tax credit, which may be as high as $7,500.
Later in the decade, Rawlinson hopes sales of the luxury Lucid Air will help him ramp up production so that a promised SUV and vehicles with mass-market price tags would be next. For the sake of the wildfire-choked planet, which badly needs competition between EV companies to drive down the price of carbon-free transport, let’s hope he’s right.
I for one cannot wait to get behind the wheel.