“The times they are a-changin’” sang Bob Dylan in the early 1960s. The legacy of the song can be seen as to how, no matter the year, it always finds a way to relate to contemporary life.
Take electric vehicles, for example. In just a decade, electric vehicles went from almost non-existent to Tesla selling hundreds of thousands each year. Furthermore, numerous global automakers have released their own EVs and/or pledged to have their entire model lineup be exclusively electrified by the end of the current decade.
Changing times also mean opportunity. Lucid Motors, a company based in Newark, California, is bringing the Lucid Air EV sedan to market. With attention-grabbing specs, plus an alluring, captivating design, the Lucid Air is attempting to take on Tesla.
A quick recap of the specs: the Lucid Air is expected to start at $77,400 with the Pure model, which has 480 horsepower and a range of 406 miles. The 1,080 hp and 503-mile range Dream Edition completes the lineup at the other end of the spectrum with a $169,000 price tag.
This past week, during the mecca that is Monterey Car Week, I had the chance to sit down with Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s VP of Design, who also leads their creative and brand strategies. Jenkins is also responsible for the current crop of Mazdas, many of which have won praise for their styling. It’s safe to say Jenkins knows a thing or two about design.
*Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.
Q: A lot of EV start-ups have failed. What makes you and Lucid think you’ll be able to stick around in a space where so many others have come and not been able to make that impact in the market?
DJ: I think it’s a couple things. [For one], we really did focus from day one on proprietary technology. So that means our own battery, our own motor, inverter, transmission, our own charging technology, and it’s all integrated – it’s all in-house – it’s patented.
That gives us an advantage. We have an obsession with efficiency; We believe efficiency is core to making the EV attractive to this new wave of consumers. Other startups are not doing that, and even a lot of traditional OEs don’t have their own proprietary drivetrain technology.
I think the second thing is our positioning. We focused on doing luxury for a couple of reasons: It’s a business strategy. It’s important to know that developing your own tech and starting a car company is capitally intensive – you’re not going to do it with hundreds of thousands of units from day one. So, by going lower volume with higher margins, we can bring the tech, bring and create the efficiency, and performance with the luxury experience … we tend not to over-promise things – we’d rather under-promise and over-deliver; That’s the Lucid personality. There’s a lot of hype in the space right now, and we’ve been playing it safe with what we say and we’ll deliver it when we’re ready to.
Q: How do you plan to take on startups like Rivian and established makers like Tesla – as well as legacy automakers who are jumping into the game?
DJ: We give Tesla massive credit for opening the door to EV and changing the minds for people that electric cars can be an attractive option … They’re also moving down market and making a higher volume product now. I feel like there’s an opportunity in the luxury space. Luxury is changing. Still, only 3 percent of the luxury market is EV at the moment, so there’s a real opportunity to attract a lot of those consumers. We’ve really designed the Lucid brand, the Lucid product attributes, the aesthetic – Everything is built around what we consider this new kind of forward-facing luxury consumer. That to me is different than what Tesla and what Rivian are doing. It’s different than what traditional brands are doing. I believe that’s our best chance to be successful in that space and hopefully, through that become a household name, and then we’ll figure out how to proliferate the brand into different markets from there. This is the future, we’re all-in on it. We believe we’re experts at the technology and so our message is very clear, distilled, and focused.
Q: There’s a Lucid studio in New York’s Manhattan. Does Lucid think having a toe-hold in urban markets will be key to its market strategy?
DJ: I do. because you know you can look at the general luxury market where vehicles are selling and you can look at the EV market where vehicles are selling – they’re concentrated in specific metropolitan areas. That’s not to say exclusively, but a majority are focused in the places you would think, like Los Angeles, Orange County, Palm Beach, Miami, New York, Toronto, San Francisco Bay Area. Then, we finger [spread out] out from those hubs. Our retail strategy, with our studios, is about connecting with consumers – It’s about discovery. We’re strategically placed with other iconic [retail] brands, oftentimes in high traffic shopping areas. Sometimes people know about us and they come in and see the car, [while] other times people walk up and they’re like “who- what is this?” You’d be surprised how many people are discovering Lucid through the placement of our studios.
Q: What overall is the strategy to get people who don’t know about Lucid, or cars in general, to become familiar with the brand?
DJ: We do a lot of social media – we create all around [different mediums]. We call them Lucid stories, so that’s the background on our employees – how they create, develop the vehicles, testing – we think it’s important for prospective customers to learn about Lucid and the people behind this amazing company. That drives people to the website and we have our online configurators, a Gran Turismo-inspired type of way of seeing the car in a digital space – I think that’s one of a kind. That’s all meant to drive people to the showrooms and experience it. They can place an order there in most cases or they can go home and order like you order an iPhone … the brand is digitally formed as a digitally native brand to start with. We don’t have franchised privately owned dealerships; We have clean control over that sales experience.
Q: What about EV infrastructure with charging networks? Any plans for your own?
DJ: We specifically partnered with Electrify America – they’re growing like crazy. They have a 900v infrastructure – fast charging infrastructure. They’re doing a great job [and] you get 2 years free charging through Electrify America. In addition, there’s all the other private platforms. I really do believe the next 3, 4, 5 years charging will become more and more ubiquitous. We use the CCS plug, that’s standard, and that creates opportunities to utilize a wide range of charging equipment. But Electrify America is our partner. No plans to build our own … we’ve been testing these at the full 350kw doing great. Creating 300 miles of range in 20 minutes is pretty mind-blowing.
Q: With the price of Lucid models and what they’re going to cost, they’re priced very much as a luxury vehicle. How does Lucid plan to distinguish itself as a legit luxury brand? How are you going to get into that field and what will make you different?
DJ: I think, inherently, there are certain things that electric cars excel at over traditional brands. We’ve really focused on those advantages and doing that better than anybody. In our case, that means range, overall performance, it’s quiet and comfortable, interior space – and that means the biggest interior space in the most compact exterior space – tons of storage front and rear. [We’re] really excelling at all the things you can get out of an electric car and I think that gives us a real advantage over legacy because they’re still in an ICE mindset and even their electric cars reflect that. The Lucid brand very much represents where I think luxury, for the modern luxury consumer, that’s where it’s going. Maybe this is a little lofty, but we’re trying to partly redefine what luxury is.
Beyond that, I would say the service, sales experience, having this own network, and staying digital if consumers want to interact digitally, or being very personal if they want to interact personally – not a third party, but a Lucid employee – there’s a big difference there. So, we’re trying to nurture that consumer relationship that way as well…this is more about just ease of ownership; Ease of ownership in itself is a luxury. An electric car is a luxury because it’s enhancing that and then Lucid is doing it even further because we completely control and own that experience.
Q: You’ve already mentioned performance, but how much do performance numbers, like lap times, horsepower, 0-60, quarter miles, mean to both Lucid and also to the customers?
DJ: The performance component – and when we talk about performance we’re talking about the acceleration, right – I think we’re still in the phase for EV being a dramatic minority of the cars on the road. It’s still bragging rights, it does change hearts and minds, it’s very visceral and emotional. And I believe that is important, especially to these early adopter consumers, and it is a cool experience. Will acceleration become ubiquitous over time? I think it’s going to – I really do. But right now, there’s still bragging rights to be held, and we do think to be taken serious as an all-EV brand you need to be doing [these things] really well.
Q: You need that headline.
DJ: You do. But if you couple that with being a leader in – essentially miles per gallon in an EV – how many miles per kilowatt-hour you’re capable of, in our case we’re at 4.5 miles per kWh, now you’ve got class-leading performance, acceleration, and the best efficiency of any electric car.
Those things, being able to do those polar opposites well in itself is a luxury, and I do think that those are the areas where we’ll continue to push as our metrics of being excellent. And I do think that matters to customers, at least for the foreseeable future. Now, is there a point when so fast is fast enough and so far is far enough? That’s gonna happen. But for right now, I think to make Lucid known and to get the credibility, that’s what you need to do well. And certainly, Tesla takes this very seriously as well. I think a lot of their credibility has come from being leaders in range and performance – that’s the truth. This isn’t about being a Tesla-killer, we never use that term, because it’s not that: Tesla does Tesla better than anyone. We’re going to do Lucid, and we’re going to do it our way. But there are certain things you need to do really well to be taken seriously and as credible in an EV.
After having time to personally poke around the Lucid Air Grand Touring they had on display, I was impressed by the company’s creation. The interior appears to be built to a quality standard that will rival the German brands. The leather is soft and sumptuous, the aluminum trim inside and out is intriguing to touch, and the car makes good use of Alcantara. To this author’s eye, it makes a Tesla Model S seem plain and cheap in comparison. The large screens that make up the displays are also impressive. Rear seat space is generous for a car measuring 196” in length, compared to a BMW 7-series that runs a tape measure all the way to 207″.
As more and more cars look to an electric future, we can again reflect on the poetry of Bob Dylan: “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone / For the times they are a-changin.”
[Images © 2021 Mitchell Weitzman/TTAC, Lucid]