It’s a cool spring morning in Menlo Park, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
In a two-story concrete-and-glass building on Constitution Avenue, just down the block from Facebook’s vast fortress, a group of automotive engineers and designers is working to create the next-generation luxury high-performance all-electric sedan.
A Tesla Model S version 2.0, if you will.
But although there’s a Model S v1.0 parked in an engineering workspace on the first floor of the building, this next-generation car is no Tesla.
Crouched a few feet behind the Model S is a sleek sedan, a silver teardrop of cab-forward design, with huge alloy wheels, a strip of tiny bug-eye headlights, and a roof made entirely of glass.
A glance through the glass roof reveals a massive rear-seat space occupied by two preposterously overstuffed reclining seats separated by an iPad-size screen.
Oh, and by the way, a prototype of this car has clocked 235 mph.
Lucid Air electric luxury sedan prototype [photo: David Noland]
This is the Lucid Air, an ambitious challenger to the Model S created by a brash newcomer of a company that includes a number of Tesla veterans in key positions.
Lucid is saying the Air will be in production by 2019. The base model, starting at $60,000, will have a 240-mile range and a 400-hp motor with rear-wheel drive. More expensive versions will have the reclining seats, dual motors totaling 1,000 hp, and a maximum range topping 400 miles.
In the race to develop Model S v2.0—a race that currently includes (presumably) Tesla, Mercedes, Audi, Lucid, and the additional brash newcomers Faraday Future and Fisker—Lucid seems to be leading the pack at this early stage.
Though the Model S has been continuously improved with more power, bigger batteries, all-wheel drive, autonomous-driving hardware, and software updates, the basic design, circa 2009, has remained unchanged.
With a clean sheet of paper and 5-6 years of advancing technology, the Air’s creators have the opportunity to leapfrog the Model S and significantly advance the state of the luxury-electric-sedan art.
Can they pull it off?
As a long-time owner of a Model S, I was eager to find out.
2013 Tesla Model S, in July 2017 [photo: David Noland]
Lucid Motors began in 2007 as Atieva.
Co-founded by Bernard Tse (an early Tesla VP and board member) and current Lucid Motors COO Sam Weng, Atieva began as a developer of battery packs for motorcycles, cars, and buses.
In 2014, the company started working on a car based on its core battery technology. A 900-hp Atieva testbed electric van called Edna later raced Teslas and Ferraris in a series of YouTube drag races.
Late last year, the company changed its name to Lucid Motors and introduced the Air.
Designers, engineers work together
From the design and engineering standpoint, the Lucid Air has one big advantage over the current Model S: it’s been created from a clean sheet of paper in a side-by-side collaboration between the stylists and the engineers.
It didn’t work that way with the Model S.
I remember seeing an early Model S show car with blacked-out windows at the Plaza Hotel In New York In the spring of 2009.
From the outside, it looked pretty much like the current car, but I was told it was just a shell for display, with no battery, powertrain, or interior.
They hadn’t really figured that stuff out yet.