Porsche, Audi, General Motors and other established automakers are trying to take on Tesla with splashy new electric vehicles, but the first real competition from an upstart may come from Lucid Motors, a company run by a former chief engineer on the Tesla Model S.
Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson is following his former boss Elon Musk’s playbook when it comes to production, some technology, dealerships and service. But it’s charting a different path on electric-vehicle charging stations, automated driving systems and advertising.
Here’s how Lucid, which announced plans last week to go public through a SPAC deal, and Tesla compare with each other:
Unlike some newer electric-vehicle companies, Lucid plans to manufacture all of its vehicles in-house, like Tesla does today.
Rawlinson believes “vertically integrating manufacturing is the way to go,” he said in an interview. The comments echoed remarks on a Lucid investor call last week.
“The simple fact is that manufacturing, ensuring the quality of our product is right, is too precious, too critical, an activity to entrust to a third party,” he told investors. “We have to control our own destiny.”
Lucid is building a brand new, “greenfield” car plant in Arizona which costs billions of dollars. When Tesla began its own vehicle assembly, it took over the NUMMI factory that was once home to General Motors and Toyota Motor in California.
Lucid struck a deal with LG Chem to supply battery cells, the most costly part of any electric vehicle, for its standard battery packs for its Lucid Air sedan. The company said it will announce additional suppliers in the future.
Tesla already has deals with Panasonic, Samsung, LG and CATL for cell supply for both its battery packs and energy storage products including the Powerwall.
Lucid has said it plans to manufacture energy storage products, both home batteries and utility-scale devices. But Lucid won’t have the distraction and capital burdens of running a solar business, like Tesla has done since acquiring SolarCity in the fall of 2016.
Tesla’s history with battery supply partners could prove an advantage for Tesla near-term.
Through its longstanding partnership with Panasonic, Tesla locked in undisclosed pricing terms as well as investments from the Japanese battery maker. Together, they own and operate a massive battery plant outside of Reno, Nevada.
Tesla makes the battery packs for its vehicles on one side of the factory, while Panasonic produces cells for them on the other side. However, Tesla told investors in September that it started producing its own cells at a pilot plant in Fremont, California, as well.
Lucid expects to produce more than 500,000 vehicles per year by 2030. Musk, who is known for stating ambitious plans but missing self-imposed deadlines, has said Tesla will “probably” produce 20 million electric vehicles a year before 2030.
Last year, Tesla produced 509,737 electric vehicles, with deliveries shy of half a million even amid a global slowdown in auto sales due to the Covid pandemic.
Price and battery efficiency
Rawlinson expects the Lucid Air to be the catalyst for a lineup of future all-electric vehicles, including an SUV starting production in early 2023 and more affordable vehicles down the line.
To start, Lucid plans to sell a high-end version of the Air, the Dream edition, for $169,000.
By comparison, Tesla sells its Model S sedan for $79,990 for the base model and $139,990 for the highest-end Plaid+ version, without adding Tesla’s $10,000 premium software upgrade.
By 2022, Lucid is expected to offer a version of the Air beginning at $77,400, which would directly compete with several Tesla models. The pricing excludes federal tax credits worth up to $7,500 that are available to Lucid customers but not Tesla buyers today.
It’s unclear at this time just how low Lucid pricing could go after its first two vehicles are out on the market.
Rawlinson said the company’s next planned vehicle platform will be the base for less expensive models in the $40,000 to $45,000 range. But he’s not sure the company will ever offer a vehicle for around $25,000, which Musk said Tesla intends to do.
“In the longer and the fuller timescale, do we actually make a $25,000 car like Tesla’s planning to do with its Model 2?” Rawlinson said. “My view is, as a company, I think we’re probably seven or eight years away from being able to contemplate something like that. That’s a huge undertaking.”
Rawlinson says Lucid has industry-leading battery technology for its vehicles. His main measure is the efficiency of Lucid’s batteries by miles per kilowatt hour driven.
Lucid’s vehicles are capable of more than 4.5 miles per kWh while Tesla’s Model S Long Range is greater than 4, Lucid says.
Lucid has no plans to build and operate its own charging network like Tesla has done with its Superchargers, according to Rawlinson. “Do we want to have the capital burden of a fast charging network? No, we can go asset light in that. That’s where we can save money,” he said.
Tesla Supercharger Station
CNBC | Andrew Evers
Instead of building its own vehicle charging infrastructure, Lucid has partnered with Volkswagen-owned Electrify America, which expects to have 800 total charging station sites with about 3,500 chargers by the end of this year.
Tesla currently operates more than 20,000 Superchargers globally, according to its website.
Lucid, like Tesla, says it will offer customers home charging devices.
When it comes to developing driverless vehicle technology, Elon Musk has famously called lidar, or light ranging and detection sensors, “a fool’s errand.” The sensors work by using pulsed lasers to create something like a live, 3D map of a vehicle’s surroundings that can be read by onboard computer systems.
Many autonomous systems engineers believe lidar is critical for making cars truly driverless. Instead of lidar, Tesla’s driver-assist systems and long-awaited self-driving features rely on a host of other onboard cameras and sensors including radar. Rawlinson believes that choice is a mistake.
“Do we think that lidar should be part of the sensor suite for (autonomous vehicles)? Yes, we do,” Rawlinson said.
Lucid has said that the Air sedan, which was delayed from this spring to the second half of this year, will use lidar in its sensor suite for advanced driver-assist systems. The company expects the technology to set “a new benchmark” for the industry.
Tesla sells a premium, advanced, automated driving system for its vehicles for $10,000 today, with plans to roll out a subscription option, too. While it is marketed as “Full Self Driving,” the system’s features do not enable a truly driverless, hands-free and unsupervised ride.
Instead, FSD enables features beyond Tesla’s standard Autopilot package. These include smart navigation, automatic lane changing and Smart Summon. With Smart Summon a driver can call their car out of a parking spot using their mobile phone like a remote control.
Tesla vehicles lack a robust driver monitoring system, which can detect whether a driver is using their systems responsibly.
Lucid has promised to include a driver monitoring system in its vehicles that will ensure drivers are using their advanced, automated driving systems as prescribed, staying attentive to the road and their surroundings, ready to manually steer at any time.
Advertising and sales
Tesla has become one of the world’s best-known automotive brands without the use of traditional advertising. It has instead generated hype and attention through splashy events, nontraditional social media engagement, Tesla online forums and owners’ clubs, and nearly constant engagement by Musk himself with fans and shareholders. Musk has cultivated a following of about 50 million on Twitter, for example.
Lucid, by contrast, ran a national television campaign from Dec. 25 through the end of January for the Air to generate awareness of the company and vehicle. Rawlinson said such a campaign wasn’t necessarily a part of Lucid’s plans until the coronavirus pandemic last year forced the company to cancel several events.
Interior of the Lucid Air show car, which is expected to be produced beginning in 2021.
“I thought, well, dammit, we’re going to have to because we couldn’t get the message out,” Rawlinson said. “So, we had a little foray into that, and I think that’s been quite positive. So, I don’t rule that out just because Tesla doesn’t do it.”
Lucid also embraces Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales and service models instead of selling through traditional franchise dealerships.
Lucid already has six retail locations open in California and Florida. It plans to operate 20 retail locations and service centers in North America by the end of this year in addition to selling its vehicles online. Tesla has about 160 retail locations in the U.S., according to its website.