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Lucid CEO has a plan to end Americans’ range anxiety

Lucid Motors

(NEW YORK) — America has range anxiety. Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson may have an answer.

Rawlinson, an industry veteran who previously engineered cars for Tesla, Lotus and Jaguar, built the Lucid Air all-electric sedan to quell range fears and transform how motorists drive.

The sleek and futuristic Lucid Air ($82,400) can travel up to 516 miles without needing a charge, making it the longest-range EV currently on the market. The young company manufactures its vehicles in Arizona and production of its halo car, the $249,000 Lucid Air Sapphire (1,234 horsepower, 1,430 lb-ft of torque), begins this month. The company’s first SUV, the Lucid Gravity, will be unveiled in November.

Rawlinson, who is also Lucid’s chief technology officer, said cheap electric vehicles with small, efficient batteries will get Americans to permanently trade in their gasoline-powered vehicles for electrics.

“The feeling of the road, the feedback through the steering, the instantaneous torque — there is romance with an electric car,” he said.

Rawlinson recently sat down with ABC News to address Americans’ attitudes toward EVs, how to reduce the mining of core materials for batteries and why he does not miss the exhaust note on a Lotus sports car.

The interview below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: How can you convince Americans to give up their internal combustion cars? Range is a serious concern for many people.

A: Most people still haven’t gotten behind the wheel of an electric car. They’re unaware that it’s actually a better, more pleasurable, more responsive and more engaging driving experience.

If we wind back a few years, the fundamental obstacle was range anxiety. And it still is to a certain degree. But I think we assuaged that concern with Lucid Air having 516 miles of range [for the Grand Touring model]. The key obstacle to widespread adoption in the U.S. and worldwide is the entry price point of an electric car. I am profoundly aware that we need to push the price down so more people can afford electric cars. This is critically important.

There are a number of factors that are going to drive that. One is economy of scale of the battery itself, which is the most expensive part of an electric car. There is another factor that almost no one is taking about: vehicle efficiency. And that’s not battery efficiency — battery efficiency is a misnomer. There is almost no such thing as battery efficiency. The best analogy I can make is miles per gallon in a gasoline car. Mpg is not a function of the size of the gas tank. It’s a function of the efficiency of the vehicle’s gasoline engine.

Right now there is this sense that it’s binary — that all gasoline cars are bad. And there’s this perspective that all electric cars are good for the environment. There are inefficient electric cars. What we’re trying to do at Lucid is advance the technology to make the most efficient cars in the world. This is fundamentally important to mankind because we need to go further with less battery pack.

If we can go further with a smaller battery we can address the entry cost of an electric vehicle. Affordable electric cars will really accelerate the widespread adoption both here in the U.S. and internationally.

Q: Right now your least expensive model is $82,400. Are you eventually going to build a car that is $60,000, $50,000 or $40,000?

A: That is exactly why I go to work. I am not here to build an expensive car that only rich people can afford.

We had to start with a high-end product, that’s the only way I could make [the company] work commercially, the only way I could make the business work financially to attract investment.

But the technology we’re able to develop today — and the future technology — that is the key to unlocking greater efficiency. I would love to be able to license our technology that others can manufacture at scale.

We are targeting a price — and don’t hold me to this — around $50,000. That’s the vision. Right in the heart of Tesla Model 3, Model Y territory. I wish I could go to a lower-price car but it’s the best this company can do in this mid- to late decade time frame. What the world needs of course is the $25,000 electric car. I think that can come as a consequence of the technology we’re developing today. And we’re doing that with a sense of utmost urgency.

Q: It’s not just price, people are also concerned about the national charging infrastructure.

A: About 86% of Lucid customers charge at home overnight. Relatively slow charging is the kindest for the environment, for the grid, for your pocket and for the car.

Overnight charging puts less strain on the grid in the U.S, which is overstretched as it is. Cranking power stations up and down in a 24-hour cycle is very bad for the environment. Now, if it’s wind and solar, that’s great. For now, there will be that carbon content in energy generation.

I think policymakers have a role here. It’s really important to get more overnight AC [alternating-current charging, also known as Level 2] infrastructure for those who live in apartment complexes or street park. There’s too much emphasis on DC fast charging.

It’s very rare for most people to drive more than 500 miles in a day. So 99 times out of 100 you can leave your home fully charged and never have to fast charge — which is worse for the environment, worse for the grid, it’s worse for your car battery. When we look at infrastructure, please let’s have more emphasis on AC overnight charging. That will certainly broaden the appeal for all those people in apartments who do not have access to garage spaces. Personally, I would prefer reliable, slower charging over less reliable, super fast charging.

I don’t get range anxiety, I get charging anxiety. Will the public infrastructure work? As we know it’s not reliable enough now. The less range you’ve got in your car, the more anxiety.

Q: A lot of automakers are choosing to use Tesla’s NACS charging plug for their vehicles. Will Lucid do the same?

A: We are very open-minded. We consider everything. I am a proponent of having a unified standard — but it has to be future proof. That means it should be high voltage, a thousand volts. The lions share of the Tesla grid today is not high voltage. If the U.S. public is going to pay with tax dollars we should have a standard. And I am fine with the NACS plug, I led the team that designed that plug when I was at Tesla.

Q: You were the chief engineer of the Tesla Model S. Who or what will dethrone Tesla from its perch?

A: Everyone is obsessing with dethroning Tesla. I am not trying to dethrone Tesla. I am not! When the Model S came out, the thesis was there is no market for electric cars. Guess what? There wasn’t because no one had done a good electric car. So there wasn’t a market because no one could buy one. Now there’s this perception that Tesla is the market for electric cars. No — there’s a market for great cars. The more people who get behind the wheel in our cars will ditch their gasoline car and move to a Lucid Air because it’s better.

Q: How do we reduce the mining of nickel, lithium and cobalt for EV batteries?

A: If we double battery efficiency, we’ll halve the number of mines for cobalt, nickel and lithium. We can make more efficient cars with smaller batteries.That’s what I am trying to do.

We don’t need 500 miles of range in the future. I think the electric car of the future will be more like 150 miles of range — if we have mature infrastructure.

You need to adopt a top-and-go mentality with EVs. Get a cup of coffee, use the restroom, plug in for eight minutes, top and go. The car’s battery is not like a nickel cadmium battery where topping off is bad.

I think we can get to a car with a 25-kilowatt hour battery pack. If it does 6 miles per kilowatt hour — that’s the magic number, the holy grail — it will save the planet. We’re trying to get 5 with Lucid Air. Right now we’re at 4.74.

Q: You said earlier that electric cars are more enjoyable to drive. Enthusiasts complain that EVs drive like appliances … you can go fast in a straight line but something is missing.

A: I don’t ascribe to that thesis at all. I had a Lotus when I was 21 and I don’t miss the exhaust note at all. The engagement with the road, the feedback through the steering, the instantaneous torque — there is romance with an electric car.

There’s a perception that electrics are appliances because many of them are. The Lucid Air is not an appliance. It’s a love affair with the road. No one would describe it as an appliance.

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