Newcomer Lucid Motors has generated quite the buzz since it announced its Air electric car late last year.
The California-based company's EV, which also has an autonomous driving system, has been billed by many as a Tesla "killer" that's more high tech and luxurious than the Model S.
I got a chance to sit — unfortunately, I didn't get to drive or even ride in one on the streets — in the Air at the New York Auto Show and I have to say, it felt more like being in a private jet or in a first-class plane cabin than in a road vehicle.
I should preface this "first look" at the Air by telling you that I sat in a near fully-loaded Lucid Air — that's the more expensive model that'll cost over $100,000 and comes with all the bells and whistles, like a 1,000-horsepower all-wheel drive twin-motor, 400-mile range battery, panoramic glass canopy, leather trims, 21-inch wheels, 29-speaker audio system, two "executive" rear seats that recline up to 55-degrees, and friggin' massage built into the front seats.
While the base Air will cost $52,500 (after federal tax credits), it'll still come with some formidable specs, including a 400-horsepower rear-wheel drive single motor and 240-mile range battery. The base Air's got a few downgrades — an aluminum roof instead of glass, the back seats don't recline, the wheels are smaller 19-inch ones, and the sound system's only got 10 speakers — but I'm told it'll still be pretty roomy.
But back to the car. The Air is super sleek as far as EVs go, and I actually think it looks better than the Tesla Model S. The Air definitely has a slightly boxier look not everyone will appreciate, especially around the front, but I think it gives the car its own unique identity and character. It screams powerful and agile without physically being more muscular.
Right from the start, Lucid Motors crafted the Air to be the most luxurious and spacious electric car.
"[The Tesla Model S] is a great product — a landmark — and I was thrilled to be involved with it, but there are certain things it didn't do," says Peter Rawlinson, Chief Technology Officer at Lucid Motors. Car nerds will recognize Rawlinson as the former Chief Engineer on the Model S.
Compared to the Model S, Rawlinson says the Air uses a special "sculpted battery" to free up space for occupants.
"The [battery] pack bolts under the car just like Tesla, but the Tesla pack is continuous — a simple prism that runs front to rear. What we've done is sculpt the battery back away, particularly around the rear occupant's feet so it's roomier and more comfortable."
"The battery, the motors, the whole electric power train — we used an imaginative way to create a better vehicle package. They enabled this better package. So we were thinking where do people want to sit? Where would their feet go? Well, their feet should take priorities over batteries [back there], so that drove the shape of the battery."
I can confirm the car's interior is very spacious. I almost cried with tears of joy at all the leg room. And while I didn't get to actually recline the rear "executive" seats, they still had a ridiculous amount of personal space.
I've sat in a Model S, and more than enough midsize sedans with many of the extra car option checkboxes ticked off, and I can't think of any that even come close to the amount of comfort the top-of-the-line Air offers.
All this extra interior space will be even more useful when the Air's built-in autonomous driving system is switched on in a future software update. I can already imagine how awesome naps in the car will be in the Air's reclinable rear seats! Out of the gate, all Air vehicles will come with the hardware necessary (LiDar, radar, and cameras) to enable either Level 4 or Level 5 autonomous driving.
The Air's got three displays (two of which are touchscreens) where a traditional instrument cluster would normally be. They all looked sharp, and provide all the necessary car information (speed, range, etc.) and controls at a glance. On the left touchscreen, you've got various controls for features like locking the doors, and popping the hood and truck, to name a few. And on the right-most touchscreen, you've got info for navigation, weather, and shortcuts for music and phone access.
And if that's not enough, there's a third iPad-sized touchscreen that retracts from the center console. It's nowhere near as huge as the 17-inch touchscreen in the Tesla Model S, but it's still plenty of pixels to get more detailed info for things like maps, and music and system controls.
Then there's the car's personalization through its built-in voice assistant and AI. Though Lucid Motors couldn't share any specifics on the technology powering the Air's built-in voice assistant, I was told it'll be quite intelligent.
"We want to have a natural voice experience, unlike what anyone has managed in the vehicle today — so comparable to an Echo or Siri-like experience," says Derek Jenkins, Vice President of Design at Lucid Motors. "We believe that's ideal for automotive applications. The AI assistant is really about the car learning, over time, your routine, being able to know what your typical routes are, being able to know your schedule, being able to cite conflicts in your schedule, timing discrepancies that come up on your daily commute, etc.. And that becomes a big, big part of it."
Furthermore, the car's got a facial recognition system that'll be able to detect who's in the driver seat and adjust in-car settings accordingly. This was yet another feature I couldn't demo, though.
"Some people will compare us with Tesla because it's a luxury EV in that space, and I can understand that comparison. But what I hate is being described as a Tesla killer, because that's just not representative. We want to take our rightful place [in the luxury car market] which exists worldwide, and it's dominated by the Germans."
When I asked him how much of the Model S influenced the Air — after all, he did work on the Model S — Rawlinson demurred. "Of course you bring knowledge, and experience, but this is really a free-thinking look, and how we can make the next level of electric car, completely uninfluenced by Tesla Model S. This is how we can really take advantage of electrification in a way that product didn't. This is the electric car reimagined from scratch. Uninfluenced."
Impressive as the Lucid Air appears so far, there's still a long ways to go. Lucid only just announced the car's completed its first high speed stability test at 217 mph with a prototype vehicle. The plan right now is to build about some 8,000 Airs for launch in 2019 at a soon-to-be-built factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.
Author: Raymond Wong