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Meet Lucid Motors, the EV startup you’ve never heard of

Lucid Motors Inc. (formerly known as Atieva), was formed in 2007 by Sam Weng and two co-founders, Bernard Tse and Sheaupyng Lin. Based in Menlo Park, California, the company has been operating under a shroud of secrecy until recently photos were leaked of the Lucid Motors Atvus, which bears a passing resemblance to the Tesla Model S. The company’s original name was Atieva. In line with the company’s ambition of launching an electric car of its own design, the company renamed itself and made an announcement on October 19: “Today we are proud to share our new identity: Atieva is now Lucid Motors, we are a luxury mobility company. To reimagine the future, we are rewriting the rules, applying the California state of mind to shape a new vision of what a car can be.”

The video on the website of Lucid shows a California dream to develop a self-driving electric vehicle, a Tesla rival and much more. On October 21, news came out that Lucid may be the sole battery pack supplier for Formula E. 

Lucid Motors’s quick ascendancy and ambitious electric car plan are triggering questions. What is Lucid Motors? Who is behind this ambitious dream? Is it really a big player in the future of electric cars?


What’s Lucid Motors?

Lucid Motors started initially to develop advanced high voltage battery packs and drivetrains for buses and vans. In 2008, Atieva’s small team of Silicon Valley engineers began by working on their battery system: the core EV technology. Over the next five years they went on to integrate a diverse set of battery packs into motorcycles, sedans, vans and buses with an energy ranging from 3 kWh to 150 kWh. And by perfecting their core battery system technology, they were able to accumulate more than 100 patents. As Lucid Motors expanded its efforts to develope complete powertrain systems, it became clear that the most direct route to increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road was to develop its own. Before long, the company started imagining a vehicle that takes full advantage of electrification without boundaries.

In 2014 two Chinese firms invested around $100 million for a nearly 50 percent stake in the firm. One was BAIC Group, China’s fifth largest automaker, and the other LeEco (then called LeTV), a leading Chinese internet media and technology company making televisions, smartphones, electric bikes and soon super electric cars. After closing a 9-digit funding round, Lucid Motors set a goal of developing a complete car. To achieve that, they started building a team of outstanding engineers, including former Tesla VP Peter Rawlinson, who led development of the Tesla Model S, and Brian Barron, who oversaw vehicle manufacturing for BMW. Together with the new team of designers, software and vehicle engineers, Lucid Motors built a custom 900 hp powertrain test vehicle. It was ordinary from the outside to stay unrecognized, but extraordinary from the inside reaching 60 mph in less than 3 seconds with a driving range that well exceeds today’s range limitations.

In late 2015 its founder and CEO, Bernard Tse, was forced to step down and left the company following friction with its largest shareholder BAIC Group, which in early April 2016 sold its 25 percent stake in Atieva. According to inside sources, YT (Yueting) Jia, founder and CEO of LeEco, is the most likely purchaser. And Jia also has a stake in Faraday Future, an EV startup also based in Silicon Valley. And according to Martin Eberhard, who co-founded Tesla Motors in 2003 and was a vice president at Lucid for just six weeks during 2015, the relationship between Lucid and LeEco became very strained when LeEco invested in Faraday Future.

In October, Jia presented the LeSEE Pro developed by LeEco itself for the first time in San Francisco. And in the same event Jia also announced that Faraday Future would be unveiling its first production car at the 2017 CES in January.

Since then Lucid Motors has been led by acting CEO Rawlinson (also CTO). Meanwhile, Lucid seems to be making good technical progress, especially with its Tesla fighter. But how are LeEco, Faraday Future and Atieva connected? Will Jia merge them into one? These questions remain.


What will be its first electric vehicle?

Lucid Motors has attracted lot of attention with a few detailed photos of its first premium electric prototype car. According to two sources close to the company, Lucid will have a full launch of its first premium electric sedan in December and the official name of the electric sedan will also be announced then. Equipped with a dual-motor system, the car to be launched will get well over 300 miles of range, and the company is also considering a 400-mile version as well. The vehicle will have fully independent front and rear electric motors, therefore it could likely get to over 200 mph. The charging times for its upcoming sedan is not yet decided, and which fast charging standard to use, CHAdeMO or J1772 Combo, remains to be decided by the company.

In terms of design, Derek Jenkins, vice presidentt of design, said “I wanted something with a mid-size footprint, similar to a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but with cabin space equaling that of a full-size car, such as a 7 Series or S-Class.” Without engine and transmission, it allows him to realize that goal. The photos show the car has a sedan stance with a modern edge with a low, short front-end and a glass canopy covering the roof, which would be electrochromic in production, allowing for different tint levels at the touch of a button.

According to a CNET report, Lucid Motors has also gone a long ways towards developing other aspects of its car. For example, the infotainment system will have four OLED screens and have natural language voice recognition. It will also support Google’s AndroidAuto and Apple CarPlay, and have a built-in data connection the company can use to send out over-the-air software updates. Similarly, Level 5 autonomy, which means full self-driving capability, is being built into the car, although how it will be enabled depends on what the laws allow when it reaches production. The sensor suite includes solid-state LIDAR, radar and cameras.

The production of Lucid Motors’ first model is expected in 2018, at an initial manufacturing level of about 20,000 units. In an interview with Reuters in June, Lucid Motors’ manufacturing director said he wanted a U.S.-based assembly plant that would build 20,000 cars a year at first, eventually rising to 130,000 annually. Lucid Motors currently has two facilities in Silicon Valley, one just 10 miles from Tesla’s own factory, and it’s also in the process of searching sites in other States. Rawlinson said the company will need another round of funding to get manufacturing up. And as for sales, they will follow Tesla’s model: customers order it online and the vehicle will be delivered from the factory.


Exclusive battery pack supplier for Formula E?  

Rawlinson recently confirmed that Lucid Motors will be the sole supplier of battery packs for FIA Formula E rancing. And the agreement will be part of a three-way partnership among McLaren Applied Technologies, Lucid Motors and Sony. Lucid Motors will design and construct the battery and battery management software, while Sony will supply the small-format, commodity-sized cylindrical cells within and McLaren will manage the logistics and trackside support.

“Our batteries will power the entire Formula E race series for seasons 5 and 6,” said Rawlinson. “There are some major automakers entering that series – illustrious, well-recognized names – and they will all be running our batteries.”

Rawlinson also pointed out that, while many larger companies are marketing their technology to Formula E, Lucid Motors is being paid to supply the battery technology.

Formula E is the sister racing series to Formula One that uses only electric vehicles and Faraday Future also has a team in the race. That means Lucid will also be the battery supplier for Faraday Future.

Lucid Motors is suddenly emerging from a self-imposed stealth mode with so many serious announcements. It’s difficult to foresee how well Lucid Motors will perform in the global EV market, given that it has never produced a complete vehicle before. And how is Jia, who has strong influences on Lucid Motors, going to manage these EV rivals at the same time? It will be interesting to see what is going to happen both on the tracks and on the streets.

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