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Electric Vehicle Startup 'Lucid' Competes Directly with Tesla

Production on the Lucid Air is expected to begin in early 2019, with the price tag around $85,000.

by Louis Hansen, The Mercury News / March 3, 2017
Inside the Lucid Air Photo Courtesy of Lucid Motors

(TNS) -- MENLO PARK, Calif. — Peter Rawlinson got a big break in his automobile career by building his own sports car — a curvaceous two-seater called the Imola.

He parlayed that design into a job at Lotus, the iconic British sports car maker. His design later echoed through a more familiar Silicon Valley sight — the Tesla Roadster.

Rawlinson, an engineer and designer by training, has designed and innovated for Jaguar, BMW, Aston Martin, Daimler, Ford, Bentley and other major automakers. In 2009, he became vice president of vehicle engineering at Tesla, leading the company’s design and engineering of the Model S.

Three years later, he left Tesla to become chief technology officer of an electric vehicle startup now known as Lucid. The company revealed an early version of its first sedan, the all-electric Air, in December. Rawlinson’s pitch for the Lucid Air is space and luxury. The cabin is roomier than a traditional sedan and designed to feel like the interior of a private jet. It leaps from the starting line like a Formula One car.

The company expects to start production in early 2019, with the price tag around $85,000. That puts Rawlinson and Lucid squarely in competition with his former company. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: When you came out of university, what path were you drawn to?

A: I wanted to design cars. I wasn’t sure when I went into university, but the passion sort of developed. I deliberately started a career designing, engineering cars. That’s a subject which is so misunderstood, this view that the design is done in the studio — the art design, that’s the styling design — and the engineers develop the car. Actually, the design is both aesthetic and technical. There’s design from a styling perspective and design from an engineering perspective.

That really became my passion. To have such an impact on people’s lives — and actually their well-being and safety — is quite a calling.

Q: How do you create a team that can create a world-class design? You did that with the Model S, and you believe you’re doing it with the Lucid Air.

A: You have to know enough people, and you need to be sufficiently convincing with those people, and they have to have enough trust in you and belief in you come and join you. And somehow you bribe them or cajole them or buy sufficient beers to convince them that’s a wise move, career-wise, to drop everything that they’ve left to come and join my latest escapade.

Here’s the interesting thing — it’s actually, I believe, easier, particularly as a new venture, to create a car and a product that is truly outstanding than one that’s mediocre.

You sell the dream that we’re going to change the world. We’re going to create something which is not just another electric car that’s been done before. This is the next generation. We’re pushing state of the art, we’re pushing the technology for the benefit of mankind — for the benefit of sustainable transportation.

Q: It’s a hard mission to start, building an automobile company. It’s capital-intensive effort. Why did you decide to take this on?

A: I passionately believe we have to make a real serious impact upon the transportation habits in this world. To create more competition in this arena is a really good thing. To truly, to really be the company that exploits the full potential of the electric power train. That can make the electric car more compelling in the marketplace than even it is now. Some of the advantages have been shown. The full potential is not being shown.

Q: Where do you think EVs are today? Where do you think the Model S is today, and where do you think the Air is taking consumers?

A: The Model S is a remarkable product. I’m very proud of what the team achieved on that. It’s a landmark product, and I’m thrilled by its success. I was a real big part of that. It’s really established a great foundation in people’s consciousness. It’s changed the way electric vehicles are perceived.

But what it didn’t do was truly tease out the full potential. It’s a great starting point. We’re taking this to another level from the Model S. This is next generation, the second generation electric car. If you look at the rear interior space of the Model S, it’s very compromised.

Q: What are some of the biggest lessons that you took from Tesla and going through the experience of launching the Model S?

A: Tenacity. Never say die. … A lot of it is commitment. There are three cornerstones of success in many ventures in life: It’s ability, application and a degree of luck.

What we’ve done is very different that some other startup companies. We’ve been pretty quiet. And that’s the style we’ve set from the top of the company. We’ve kept in stealth mode for a protracted period. Ultimately, I’ll let the car do the talking.

Q: Do you find this an exciting time to be in the car business?

A: It’s fascinating. I thought I was born too late. I thought a century ago, all the car guys like me we’re having the most fun, because this was when it was true car wars. People were inventing things left, right and center. There were some crazy advanced designs. Back in the 1880s, Porsche created a car with in-wheel electric motors. The early land-speed records were all done with electric cars.

I thought it was all done. And now, here we are, years on, it’s great. It’s car wars again. There’s a Darwinian struggle between different technologies.

I personally believe pure electric is the thing.

©2017 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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