Elon Musk’s ex-chief engineer creates new car, says it beats Tesla

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The $ 169,000 Lucid Air arrives this spring, and Peter Rawlinson says it will be the fastest and longest electric vehicle on the planet. He should know. Ten years ago, he designed the Tesla Model S.


Peter Rawlinson has many goals for the Lucid Air. The first is that it is hailed as the best electric car in the world. “Nobody believes me, but we are about to take it to another level,” he says in a Zoom In Christmas conversation of the 300-year-old farmhouse in Warwickshire, England, which he calls home when he calls it home. is not in the Silicon Valley of Lucid Motors. Headquarter.

It’s the same feeling he had ten years ago as chief engineer of Tesla’s Model S, the revolutionary all-electric car that took the automotive world by storm in 2012. ” No one believed me with the Model S. . the hostility towards him was shocking. I found the same with (Air). No one believes it.

The Air’s “Dream” edition certainly looks set to wow. It outperforms the S with a top speed of 517 miles per charge, faster recharging, and the ability to go from 0 mph to 60 mph in just over 2 seconds. (Tesla responds at the end of the year with a “Plaid +” Model S that accelerates in just under 2 seconds and can travel 520 miles per charge, Elon Musk said in January.) Air’s first customers will take it on. delivery this spring.

But Rawlinson’s ambitions go far beyond thrilling wealthy drivers with a $ 169,000 luxury car.

Its most important goal is to take advantage of Air’s 1,080 horsepower propulsion technology – which it claims to be the most efficient in the world – to power cheaper electric vehicles. Within five years, Rawlinson wants to sell hundreds of thousands of electric cars for $ 40,000 and help major automakers sell mass electric vehicles for $ 25,000 – the same goal his former boss, Elon Musk is pursuing. If that weren’t enough, Rawlinson wants to build his cars at Saudi Arabia’s first oil-rich auto plant, whose sovereign wealth fund owns two-thirds of its company.

“There is a very big misunderstanding about our business model,” says the Welsh engineer, 63. “It’s not about making an expensive car for the rich. That’s not what I’m here for. This is not what motivates me. . . . I want us to make a million cars a year. Lucid’s ambition is to have a profound effect. We are not a minority room.

The sleek Air, with its sculpted aluminum body and distinctive “Micro Lens Array” headlamps, comes to an inflection point. It’s part of a new wave of electric vehicles benefiting from cheaper lithium-ion batteries, a growing global supply of electric vehicle parts, and growing consumer interest, all of which Tesla has encouraged. And the Biden administration has made electric vehicles a priority.

Already, the new US president has signed orders urging the federal government to replace fossil-fueled vehicles with electric ones, a government fleet totaling hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks. Biden has pledged to build thousands of new public electric vehicle charging stations, and federal tax incentives for electric vehicle purchases that had lapsed under Trump should be reinstated. Large companies are embarking on the adventure. General Motors has already pledged to make only electric vehicles by 2035, and Ford and Volkswagen also have aggressive plans to move away from fossil fuels.

Longtime Tesla Bull Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas predicts EV sales could jump 50% globally in 2021. California, America’s largest EV market and home of Lucid and Tesla, is the starting point for this increase and could become the United States’ Norway for battery cars. “With more than 50% electric vehicle penetration, Norway is 15 years ahead of the rest of the world,” Jonas said. “Be careful that California is moving in that direction fairly quickly, influencing a significant number of other US states that are in a position to take matters into their own hands in terms of decarbonizing the fleet.”

For now, Lucid is starting at a measured pace. Rawlinson wants to do at least 6,000 Airs at a new factory in Casa Grande, Ariz. This year, potentially generating $ 900 million in revenue. The volume could exceed 25,000 units in 2022 with the arrival of versions of Air priced at $ 77,000. Further growth is expected with the introduction in 2023 of an electric crossover, tentatively named Gravity, followed by even cheaper and smaller models to compete with Tesla’s best-selling Model 3.

The private company based in Newark, Calif., Finances the development and production of Air with a $ 1.3 billion investment in 2018 from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. This is in addition to the $ 150 million the company had previously raised. Pitchbook values ​​the company at $ 15 billion. But making cars is expensive, and Rawlinson knows he needs to find even more money and is looking to list stocks on the stock exchange, possibly via a SPAC. Although he previously viewed PSPC as a “dirty word,” that has changed. It was the point of view of the financier, it was the point of view of Wall Street on the SAVS, not so long ago. I think I would say what a difference a year makes, ”he says, without confirming a specific plan.

Trained at the prestigious Imperial College London in England, Rawlinson is a Jaguar veteran who also worked on advanced vehicles for Lotus and the engineering firm Corus before joining Tesla. He’ll happily spend hours discussing the tiniest details of how Air achieves the industry’s best electric powertrain performance of 4.7 miles per kilowatt-hour of battery, roughly double the Porsche’s electric Taycan (which costs up to at $ 185,000) and even better than Tesla’s Model S and the smaller, lighter Model 3. It compares the efficiency ratings in miles / kWh determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to statistics for world-class runners.

“If you are a sprinter, what is your best time for the 100 meters? This is your metric. Usain Bolt is a 9.69, ”said Rawlinson. “You can almost do [the same] for an electric car business, and that’s your EPA efficiency.

He came to Tesla in 2009, coming out of garage startup status and was promoted to Vice President and Chief Engineer of Model S in 2010. “I put all my heart and soul into it. “

Musk is known to be difficult to work with, but Rawlinson mostly has positive memories of his Tesla days. “We got along like a house on fire most of the time I was there, not at the very end.

“We were both obsessed with the idea of ​​reaching for the stars with technology and engineering, and that just can’t be enough,” he recalls. Rawlinson follows Musk’s playbook when it comes to breaking into the auto market: start with ultra-luxury, then aggressively drive down the market.

A breakup began over Musk’s insistence that the Model X crossover, supposedly a quick follow-up to the S, use the infamous complex “falcon-wing” folding doors. Musk’s decision ultimately delayed the X’s launch by about two years and resulted in huge additional engineering costs, just as Rawlinson had anticipated.

He left Tesla in 2012 to care for his ailing mother in England, but a year later he was ready to return to work. He joined Silicon Valley start-up Atieva as CTO in 2013 as it transitioned from being a battery supplier to a manufacturer of electric vehicles. It was renamed Lucid Motors at the end of 2016, before the debut of the Air prototype, but struggled to raise funds until the Saudi investment. Rawlinson, who became CEO of Lucid in 2019, will not say how much of the company he owns.

Of course, Lucid and Tesla aren’t the only beneficiaries of the growing demand for electric cars. Rivian, backed by Amazon, is starting to deliver electric pickup trucks and SUVs this year. Celebrity car designer Henrik Fisker is expected to start selling the Ocean, his sleek electric crossover for $ 37,499 in 2022. Apple is perpetually spread look at the space. Dozens of other electric vehicles come from General Motors, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Nissan and other major automakers, starting with Ford’s powerful Mustang Mach-E.

Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey believes Lucid’s plan to forge more affordable cars from ultra-premium cars is the right approach. “What has been proven is that in this technology, the way you come in is you target the high market, then build a loyal following, use cachet, brand awareness, then spread and go further.”

Musk and Rawlison share a passion for EV technology, but they couldn’t be more different in the way they run their businesses. Tesla has become the world’s most valuable automaker, briefly making Musk the richest person in the world due to his large stake, despite selling less than 500,000 vehicles in 2020. Musk has become the world’s leading tech icon. , with over 42 million people on Twitter. And for better or for worse, he reigns as the absolute leader and brand symbol of Tesla.

The CEO of Lucid, who doesn’t have a Twitter account, takes a different approach. “I am not an autocrat. Lucid is teamwork, ”he says. “It makes a big difference. The other thing is, I don’t expect anyone who buys a Lucid to know my name. I don’t expect them to know who Peter Rawlinson is.


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