California-based Lucid Motors is gearing up to launch its first electric car, the Lucid Air, on Wednesday (9 September) in a live online-reveal broadcast from its Silicon Valley headquarters.
While price and other specs won’t be released until the launch, what Lucid has shared so far suggests that the Air will give the Tesla Model S (TSLA) a real run for its money — or even an outright thrashing in terms of range and charging speeds.
Lucid says the battery in its luxury electric sedan will go 517 miles (832 kilometres) on a single charge, which is several hundred more than the Model S and the Porsche Taycan.
Vice-president of hardware engineering Eric Bach said last month that the Air would deliver “the world’s fastest-charging ever offered” in an electric vehicle, charging up to 300 miles in 20 minutes.
Lucid Motors was founded in 2007 as a battery maker called Atieva, then relaunched itself as Lucid Motors in 2016. They were set to premiere the Air, their first car, at the New York Auto Show in April, before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered all such events.
The time is ripe to go live with the car now, according to Derek Jenkins, vice president of design at Lucid Motors. He told Yahoo Finance UK that “not launching and just hanging back is just not an option,” as they have been building up to this point for nearly five years and the auto industry is changing rapidly.
“It is a race of technology, a race to engage with customers and a push towards electrification, and we want to stay on the forefront of that,” Jenkins added.
“Obviously everybody’s had to shift gears and think about how they do a launch,” Jenkins said. He feels that pivoting to a digital launch “has been in some ways a benefit to us, as it has forced us to dive deeper on how we want to explain the many amazing things about Lucid.”
While auto shows give car bosses a dramatic 15 minutes in the spotlight, it is not really a lot of time to hammer home all the details about a vehicle before the press pack charges to a rival’s stand for the next car presentation.
Even pre-coronavirus pandemic, traditional car shows were on the skids, as more and more big car brands opted to stay away, and use those millions to build a presence big tech shows like the CES in Las Vegas, or stage their own unique launch events.
Porsche live-streamed the launch of its first fully-electric sports car, the Taycan, simultaneously on three continents in September 2019.
The IAA at Frankfurt, haemorrhaging both exhibitors and attendees, is moving to Munich. And the Geneva car show was cancelled this year due to the spread of COVID-19. The organisers announced in June that it was cancelled for 2021 as well, and that they are looking to sell it off.
Jenkins believes that car shows will continue to exist, as people will want to go out again to see new cars once it is safe, but that the format will likely change.
“The question is — is the auto show still this huge corporate-driven media extravaganza? It might be that it’s a smaller-format dealer-style thing so that people can come and touch and feel many different cars at once,” Jenkins said.
“We’re all conditioned to digital interaction, digital purchasing and choice, it’s just the car industry that’s old fashioned and holding back, it’s that gap we’re trying to close,” he added.
One core element of Lucid’s online consumer experience is an “groundbreaking” 3-D configurator, allowing people to configure for the most life-like possible rendering of how they want their new car to look.
The configurator was developed by ZeroLight, a five-year-old, Newcastle-based company that specialises in Cloud-based 3D visualisations for the auto industry.
“We also call it the digital twin, a popular term which means it’s a virtual copy of the real car, behaves like the real car, and has all same configuration options as the real car,” ZeroLight chief product officer Francois de Bodinat told Yahoo Finance UK.
The COVID-19 lockdowns and ongoing distancing measures, which shuttered car shows and dealerships, has given ZeroLight an extra boost.
“We’ve been approached a lot during the COVID-19 social distancing,” De Bodinat said “OEMS [carmakers] would come to us and tell us ‘we have issues because we can’t launch a car’… so we did adapt our technology to allow for car launches.”
ZeroLight is aiming to drag the dealership experience into the digital age too, with virtual showrooms, where customers can configure cars and have a remote one-on-ones with a dealer.
“The decline in visits to auto shows, the decline of visits to the dealerships, it was all things that we saw happening before COVID,” De Bodinat says. “COVID has just accelerated that trend for us — and before COVID we were already pushing the fact that decision-making processes happen online.”
De Bodinat says the consumer was always more ready for the shift to online sales than car companies were, but “finally, they are catching up with other industries that have been doing that for years.”
Despite the bulk of the consumer’s purchase journey happening online, a virtual-reality configurator won’t replace a test drive for many buyers, especially for such a big-ticket item.
Lucid Motors, which will offer online car purchase and delivery, is also going to open its own stores – as Tesla has done – where people can check out the car. Around 15 or 16 Lucid Studios will be opened in the course of the next year across North America; the first one is slated for Beverly Hills in September.