The Lucid Air — a forthcoming luxury sedan that promises to be all electric and capable of driving autonomously — has been parked in prime spots across Washington this week. On Tuesday, it was outside the Department of Energy. On Wednesday, Capitol Hill.
The locations are no coincidence. The company behind the Air, California-based Lucid Motors, is in the process of applying for an Energy Department loan through the same program that gave rival Tesla critical funding years ago, and that President Trump proposed eliminating in his recent budget blueprint.
Lucid’s director of marketing, Zak Edson, said the loan program was “an important component in accelerating” Tesla’s vehicle development and growth, and that Lucid hopes it is kept intact because it has proven to be successful in the past.
He added, however, that the loan is “one of the avenues we’re pursuing” and not necessary for Lucid to reach production.
The Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program was created in 2008 to spur investment in more energy-efficient vehicles. The program has since disbursed loans to five companies — including Tesla, Nissan and Ford. The other two recipients, Fisker Automotive and Vehicle Production Group, later filed for bankruptcy. The last loan was granted in 2011.
Peter Rawlinson, Lucid’s chief technology officer, explained the loan would be used to develop a production facility in Casa Grande, a town between Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. The company plans to bring the Air to market in 2019, with the base model setting buyers back $60,000.
“Ultimately we can generate up to 2,000 new jobs directly and maybe five times that number indirectly as a consequence of our plant in that state,” he said.
Edson declined to specify how big of a loan the company is seeking, and an Energy Department spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending applications.
Lucid is one of a few automotive start-ups, including Faraday Future and Karma Automotive, looking to break into the luxury electric vehicle market. That space to date is occupied almost exclusively by Tesla, with legacy automakers starting to trot out their own electric creations.
Founded in 2007, Lucid Motors is currently backed by $130 million in venture capital from investors in the U.S., China and Japan, according to the website Crunchbase. Its executive team hails from such companies as Tesla, Mazda and BMW.
The Lucid Air on display this week is “95 percent production representative,” meaning most of what you see is what you’ll get. The exterior shows a sleek and compact sedan with a sunroof that extends over almost the entire car. (Thus the “Air” moniker.)
Rawlinson said the interior is what sets the car apart — from both its chief rival Tesla and other luxury sedan manufacturers, including Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
For one, buyers can choose between batteries that allow the car to travel 300 miles or 400 miles on a single charge. Rawlinson said that distance should help to soothe drivers’ “range anxiety,” which industry observers contend has contributed to the relatively small sales of electric vehicles to date. Electric cars have made up roughly 3 percent of new-car sales in recent years.
The company’s electric powertrain is also smaller than its competitors, allowing designers to utilize more space inside the vehicle. How much space exactly? In the prototype on display, the rear seats are capable of reclining to a nearly flat position. That could allow you to take a nap when the car eventually takes over the driving, which it will be equipped to do, Rawlinson said.
“Because the electric powertrain is so compact … we’re able to tease out more space within the car package to make it roomier on the inside, and much more comfortable and engaging an environment for passengers and drivers alike,” he said.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.