A Closer Look at the 2021 Lucid Air Luxury EV’s Technology

Here’s something we haven’t been able to say since 2012: The world’s best electric car might not wear the Tesla badge. I use the word “could” because the just launched Lucid Air 2021 is still in the prototype assembly stage. And I was only a passenger in one. However, recently rolling in the back of a prototype 450 miles of the real world in an Air range demonstration (it ended up doing epic 490 miles – less than 5% of its test time). unofficial 517 mile EPA replica), I got a real taste of what the Lucid can do.

These impressions were cemented during a ride in the “Speed ​​Car” for hot laps around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where its savage acceleration took the electric vehicle’s 2.5-second sprint from 1080 horsepower to 60 mph and reported 9.9 in the second quarter – fully credible mile time. Then there were the even more dizzying laps on the track in a prototype of the monster Tri-Motor version (one engine in the front, two engines in the rear), which beat the time set by the Model S Plaid and now holds the California track EV record. .

Finally, I observed a quieter ride with Lucid General Manager and CTO Peter Rawlinson behind the wheel, giving me a chance to examine a prototype with a finished interior; every square inch is creatively sculpted into textures and tones, far more than Tesla’s display case touchscreen floating in square meters of molded plastics. When all driving is done, the Air’s 900-volt electrical architecture enables a charge rate that adds up to 300 miles of range in 20 minutes at one of Electrify America’s 350 kW stations.

2021 Lucid Air: design and technology

The Air does not exceed all of its competitors in terms of range, acceleration, aerodynamics and load. He wipes the floor with them. This is precisely what Lucid decided to do from the start.

On one of my first trips to Lucid’s headquarters, I found Rawlinson standing near a prototype Air chassis. “The Model S was a good first shot,” he said, “but that hatch damaged the stiffness too much. I am correcting any mistakes I made with it.” Yes, Rawlinson also designed Elon Musk’s Model S, the most important electric vehicle in history. Unlike the Model S, its Air has an unusual flip-flop trunk opening. As he spoke, I wondered if the Air was just an update to the Model S. Not if.

“The Model S was styled before I joined Tesla,” Rawlinson noted at the time. “My task was to retrospectively integrate all the elements into it. What I learned is that to capitalize on the miniaturization of the electric powertrain, there needs to be an interaction between design and engineering. This was missed in the Model S; it was not designed around miniaturization. It was designed to be a cool looking car. No one then knew what could be achieved by miniaturizing. “

Rawlinson’s Air is a holistic redesign of the starting point of the electric automobile. Miniaturizing the size of the drivetrain and maximizing its efficiency and integration were the first dominoes to tip the Air in a subsequent cascade of cumulative benefits. Perhaps not by chance, it is also a distant echo of Colin Chapman’s famous credo (from Rawlinson’s Alma Mater Lotus) “add lightness”.

2021 Lucid Air: engines and packaging

Numbering the system at 900 volts reduces electrical components and increases their efficiency. (Wattage equals voltage times current, so higher voltage allows lower current, allowing all wiring to shrink – this is why utilities transmit power at extremely high voltages. The resulting engines can each produce 600 hp, although they are detuned and powered – biased backwards. The higher efficiency permanent magnet type motors are terribly small, run at very high revs, and rank among the most power dense in the world.

The current wisdom with dual-motor transmissions is that while cruising at low power and low load, one of the two motors is either an induction motor, which can be turned off (like Tesla does) or a magnet motor. permanent which can be disengaged (as in the Porsche Taycan). While some believe the lack of the latter is a reason for the Jaguar I-Pace’s uncertain range, Lucid has tuned its engines to reduce slight pressure drops enough to (obviously) get around that.

Rawlinson coordinated with Lucid Chief Designer Derek Jenkins (former Mazda Chief Designer and present-day Miata Shaper) so that the compact components are neatly incorporated into what they call the Space Concept – unleashing an almost illusion. optics of interior space. For example, the Model S of similar length takes up 4% more space than the Air, while the Lucid creates 6% more space for passengers.

2021 Lucid Air: battery adjustment

Unlike the Model S’s monolithic rectangular battery, the Air’s battery is more three-dimensional suited to its space, with small batteries on the second stage of its 21,700 cells (shaped like those used by the Model 3) under the center console and the rear seat, as well as removable modules for a future second row “walk-in garage” in a cheaper and shorter range variant. In total, there are 22 of these 300-cell modules. Up front is a frunk so large it could swallow the three most spacious EV frunks … combined.

Standing in front of a semi-stripped bare chassis, Rawlinson points out how the A / C compressor is tucked away next to the front engine, but at a 90-degree angle to avoid crosstalk between their torque-inducing electric fields. Unlike the Model S, the entire ventilation system is crepe in front of the firewall for more silence and interior space.

The “Wunderbox”, a multifunction charging unit, doubles as a cross member at the firewall. There is 19.2kW on-board AC charging up to these 350kW DC fast chargers. The Lucid Connected two-way home charging station can also turn Air into a temporary power source for your home.

The path of the Air is via an air suspension. What appears to be the upper and lower wishbones of the front suspension are actually four virtual axis links. The power steering motor has internal redundancy to act as two separate motors as a fail-safe for future level 3 hands-free range – which is anticipated by a (rare) lidar unit below the bow of the car. It is one of 32 radar, video and lidar sensors that make up Lucid’s possible Dream Drive driving assistance system.

Rawlinson is adamant, “People think it’s all about the batteries.” He makes an expression of wonder. “It’s just things that provide energy and tension. That’s what you do with those, that’s all.”

2021 Lucid Air: a low coefficient of drag

In order to illustrate how the Air reached its world best of 0.21 Cd, Jenkins and I got down on our knees. It indicates how far along the underbody of the car its diffuser begins to rise subtly to avoid separation. The rear bottom of the battery is actually modified to allow this. Rawlinson adds, “We’re about 4.6 miles per kWh; my goal is 5 [miles]”Relentless perfectionism.

Years ago, during my initial visit to Lucid (then Atieva), located a stone’s throw from Tesla’s Fremont HQ, Rawlinson speculated that the Air would eventually exceed 300 miles in range. His estimate turned out to be a bit modest. In the meantime, however, Lucid has hired key employees. He almost went bankrupt. Then came the billion dollar infusion from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. Now comes the nearly complete $ 700 million plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, the first “greenfield” EV manufacturing plant in the United States. It was a roller coaster ride.

The Lucid Air is perhaps the best electric vehicle in the world. The problem is, Tesla is more than an electric car now. It’s an Apple-like environment with on-board karaoke and boost stations and machine learning of the world’s roads to speed up autonomous driving.

Rawlinson knows his Lucid still has some shortcomings at launch: “We have the option to update live. But we have to start with the car.”

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