2022 Lucid Air electric luxury sedan may be best car in the world by middle of next year

NEWARK, California — By the middle of 2022, the Lucid Air electric luxury sedan may be the best car in the world.

After a day driving the new EV and another touring Lucid’s Silicon Valley HQ/tech center, I’m convinced the fast, elegant and advanced Air is, like the iPhone, one of those rare products that won’t just succeed: It will change its industry, inspiring customers to demand more, forcing companies to do better.

Also like the original iPhone, which inspired jokes that it could do everything but make a phone call, the Lucid Air didn’t roll out of the factory perfect on Day 1.

I can’t dismiss the Lucid EV’s early-production software glitches. An automaker’s Prime Directive is to produce vehicles that open their doors and drive off on the first attempt, just as a telephone that struggles with audio calls is flawed, no matter how marvelous its other capacities.

But five years from now, nobody will remember the glitchy door handles I experienced in early-production vehicles.

In five years, countless buyers will expect — and other automakers better hope to have matched — things the Lucid Air does brilliantly today.

Luxury electric vehicle manufacturer Lucid Motors is exploring opening a showroom for its cars in Plano.

Relentless innovation

At a time when many automakers were buying off-the-shelf components to develop EVs, Lucid, a startup based in Silicon Valley, didn’t hesitate to rethink not just what an electric car can do, but basic automotive functions.

A few of its innovative functions:

  • EPA-rated maximum range of 516 miles on a charge in the long-range model.
  • Headlights that peer around corners and shift focus without a single moving part.
  • The ability to get a 300-mile charge in 20 minutes.
  • 0-to-60 mph acceleration in 2.41 seconds for the 1,111-horsepower performance model, which can still go 451 miles on a charge.
  • The most aerodynamic body of any current production vehicle: 0.20 cD, or coefficient of drag. Lower is better, of course.
  • Batteries and motors that weigh less but produce more power so the Air can go farther and faster than the competition.

The Lucid Air makes EVs from the world’s leading automakers and Tesla, 500-pound gorilla of the EV industry, seem a bit amateurish.

“Where is the value if you buy everything” from outside suppliers, Lucid CEO and chief technical officer Peter Rawlinson asked over lunch.

“You’ve got to develop your own EV technology. You can’t buy this tech. Nobody’s ever done it before.

“Innovate and use that to drive greater efficiency. Every kilo you save gets you about 100 meters (more) range.”

A dream and a plan

When Rawlinson interviewed Eric Bach — now Lucid vice president and chief engineer, then a rising star at Volkswagen — he asked for a sketch of the most efficient EV system Bach could imagine. The unusual approach presaged exciting new challenges, said Bach, who left the security of a career in Wolfsburg, Germany, for the tempestuous life of a Silicon Valley startup.

“The object was to advance the state of the art of the electric car,” said Rawlinson, who had previously been Tesla VP of engineering and a vehicle engineer for the revolutionary Model S.

“That’s necessary to accelerate adoption: Erase range anxiety, then make (the vehicles) affordable.”

It’s that vision that makes the Lucid Air — $169,000 for the 520-unit Dream Edition — more than just another tech bro’s toy.

Frankly, with 1,111 horsepower, all-wheel drive and the curb presence of arriving in the Batmobile with George Clooney as your chauffeur, $169,000 is a deal, but Rawlinson said prices will fall rapidly. A rear-drive/400-mile-range model called the Air Pure should be available for $77,400 in the second half of 2022. Still serious money, but thousands of people pay more for pickups every day. All prices exclude government incentives, which are currently in flux.

Lucid expects to add a second model, an SUV called the Gravity, in 2023. A volume-priced — in this context, maybe $40,000 to $50,000 base price? — model will follow.

The company already has assembly and battery plants in Arizona. Expect more as the model line and number of markets Lucid sells in rise. The company expects European sales in mid-2022, followed by China in 2023.

What makes the Lucid Air so special? Its in-house development of software, power electronics, battery pack, motors, body, lighting and drive unit.

2022 Car of the Year finalist Lucid Air takes the stage at the 2021 LA Autoshow in Los Angeles, Calif., in November.
2022 Car of the Year finalist Lucid Air takes the stage at the 2021 LA Autoshow in Los Angeles, Calif., in November.(FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images)

Driving the Lucid Air

For all its innovation, the Lucid Air has a short learning curve. The doors lock when you walk away and — usually — unlock and wake the vehicle as you approach with a fob.

For a car that features LED headlights with 9,000 micro lenses so they can adjust direction without moving parts, the Air’s driver controls are refreshingly familiar. There’s no start button, but stalks on the steering wheel select gears and control wash/wipe in perfectly intuitive fashion.

Controlling temperature and fan, and audio volume and tuning, are equally straightforward, managed by toggles, buttons or rollers.

The Air’s center-stack-mounted touch screen offers an array of adjustments, including driving mode, level of braking regeneration, brake hold and probably far more than I experienced in my 175-mile drive, but none affected things most drivers will want to do frequently, or while the Air is in motion.

Several of the world’s top-selling automakers could l
earn a lot from Lucid’s interface expertise.

The Air’s dynamics are equally straightforward. The steering is direct and offers good feedback. The car’s 50/50 front/rear weight distribution and electronically controlled all-wheel drive deliver predictable, stable handling around twisting mountain roads and in straight-line acceleration.

Power delivery is immediate and immense. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance in which a Lucid driver will want more, even without activating the performance model’s full 1,111 hp.

The mechanical independent suspension absorbs bumps well and prevents squat and dive in hard acceleration of braking.

I spent most of my drive using the highest level of regenerative braking. It effectively delivered one-pedal braking; the regen alone brought the car to a full stop in almost all conditions, I barely touched the brake pedal.

‘Small outside; big inside’

The interior is surprisingly roomy, given the Air’s low roofline and 195.9-inch length — just 1.3 inches longer than a Toyota Camry TRD. That’s thanks to a design that takes full advantage of EV chassis engineering. The front overhang is short — no need for a bulky engine and transmission. The same goes in the rear, where one of Lucid’s compact electric motors is laid on its side above the battery pack. All that equates to more room for the passenger compartment.

“We designed the car from the inside out,” Rawlinson said. “It’s got more legroom than a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-class, but it’s shorter than a Tesla Model S. I wanted the interior space of a luxury car but a small overall length so it’s fun to drive.”

The exterior design also takes advantage of the EV’s unique mechanical layout. Short front and rear overhangs combine with a long roofline for a profile that recalls the unusual proportions of French luxury cars like the classic Citroen DS, and less fondly remembered Renault Avantime.

The interior uses high-quality materials, including open pore wood trim and perforated leather upholstery. A fabric covering much of the interior is a sustainably sourced blend of alpaca wool and recycled pop bottles. The initial Dream edition has a full-length glass roof reminiscent of an airplane canopy. Its shading — and a perfectly placed sun visor — kept me from squinting or feeling too warm.

Synthetic suede swathes the pillar and what little roof isn’t glass.

A work in progress

A few glitches — all probably software-driven — arose the day I and three other North American Car of the Year jurors spent driving a brace of Air Dream Editions.

The automatic rear braking jerked the cars I drove to a halt for phantom obstacles a couple of times. Alexa-powered voice recognition isn’t operational yet. Two journalists were locked out of their test car when a key fob malfunctioned.

Not a crisis if you have the CEO’s personal mechanic on speed dial but enough to put a serious crimp in the day of a regular driver — or even one who can drop $169,000 on a new set of wheels. The company’s engineers say over-the-air updates will sort them out shortly.

But people are buying the cars today. I can’t ignore those early production glitches, but they shouldn’t blind anybody to the Lucid Air’s brilliance and everything the company has already accomplished. It’s an extraordinary car, potentially a historic one.

The Lucid Air’s short-term shortcomings will keep it from getting my vote for 2022 North American Car of the Year, but the future is bright longer term. In the unlikely event that I’m around in 80 years to vote on the Car of the 21st Century, I’ll be surprised if it’s not in the running.

Two EV Charging stations at Cinemark West Plano and XD in Plano.
The 2021 Ford F-150.