It’s not just about having a new electric car anymore – it seems you need to have neck-snapping 1,000 horsepower performance to make an impression. Then again, it would be nice to have a business plan to accompany all the high-velocity fireworks and hoopla. Welcome to 2017 and the EV upheaval.
If Tesla’s high-performance mode is ludicrous, I’m not sure there are words to describe where Lucid Motors and Faraday Future are taking their performance electrics. The two new high-end entrants in the volt-burning business both claim more than 1,000 horsepower from their electric cars and clearly have Tesla in their sights as the performance bogey.
As Tesla has demonstrated with its dramatic videos of the Model S on the drag strip shutting down high-performance gasoline-powered sports cars, EVs don’t have to perform like oversized golf carts. But, while Tesla touts performance, this is only part of its portfolio, which puts equal emphasis on the spaciousness of the Model X and the affordability of the coming Model 3 (which also happens to be the gateway to Tesla’s hope of becoming a profitable auto company).
Maybe they’re just trying to grab attention, but, as of right now, Lucid and Faraday Futures are presenting their offerings as fantasy engines. Their top-tier cars boast easy access to illegal speeds and potentially illegal technology (like autopilot), with the added trappings of hyper-luxury.
So, while the approach may be similar to Tesla in terms of fuel, the cars themselves couldn’t be more different. And the business models, such as they are, show some real contrast as well.
Lucid Motors – Understated Engineering
The gauntlet was thrown. Lucid Motors picked a spot only a few miles from the Tesla factory churning out Model S and Model Xs to unveil the Lucid Air to the media. The Lucid Air packs Model S-type interior space into a more compact exterior and has the requisite 1,000-hp powering all four wheels.
The Lucid Air tucks the electric motor/transmission/transaxle assembly into a patented compact form that wastes no space. This 300-person company is heavily weighted toward automotive engineers, and the final product shows it; Lucid, which started as a “battery company and an idea,” now believes it can transition into a full-fledged car company.
To get there, Lucid has attracted a variety of former Tesla employees and joined them with folks from Mazda, Lotus, Jaguar, and other automotive companies. Working alongside this critical mass of “car guys” is a contingent of software and electrical engineers developing all the gadgetry now expected to accompany a modern automobile. At its launch, the Air prototypes demonstrated not only incredible (if not ludicrous) acceleration and refined luxurious accommodations, but also a solid grasp of autonomous technology.
Here’s where it gets more complicated, though. The model shown to the media will probably top out well north of $100,000 when fitted with all its bells and whistles expected in this class of vehicle. Company executives said they expected at volume production the price would drop to “around $65,000.” There were hints of follow-on models, but no promises or plans disclosed.
The problem is the market for $65,000 electric cars (or $65,000 cars in general) is limited and has an unclear future. Tesla has sold well with models that start in that area and range up to double that, but recently sales appear to have plateaued in the United States on the Model S sedan. As a footnote, Tesla has yet to make a profit when measured by standard account methods.
So where does that leave Lucid? They’ve amassed a good number of patented technologies and clearly know how to put together a fast and beautiful, if understated, car (you could easily mistake it for the next generation Audi). The emphasis on rear seat comfort and amenities hints that the Chinese market may be the ultimate target for Lucid, but the barriers to success there are formidable. Growing domestic electric car companies, along with a market that tilts heavily to low-end cars, makes it difficult. When current Chinese buyers get a luxury car, they typically opt for a traditional European brand. Even Tesla has not been able to make much of a dent there.
Faraday Future – Flights of Fancy
Faraday Future is located on the other end of California from Lucid, down in Los Angeles, though it also has a strong Silicon Valley office working on the “usual” technologies, such as computer vision and embedded software.
Faraday Future’s product reveal took place in Las Vegas, which made sense because the company’s factory is located there, and CES assured a substantial media presence. The reveal itself was typical of the glitz auto and tech companies use when showing off a new product. Huge screens, ear-bending sound systems, and awe-inspiring demonstrations accompanied the first showing of the FF 91.
Like Lucid’s Air, the FF 91 is a bit troubled. Maybe if the companies toned down the rhetoric – “First of the Species” for the FF 91 and “Leading a New Era of Luxury Mobility” for the Air – the cars might be easier to appreciate.
The FF 91 could be mistaken in profile for a redesigned Toyota Venza, a fairly nondescript crossover. It has similar functionality: abundant interior space and a commanding view from the driver’s seat. But the FF 91 has one feature you won’t find in a Venza – 3D Lidar (Light Imaging, Detection, and Ranging) for its autonomous functions. The problem with that feature is the Lidar awkwardly rises out of the center of the hood like something out of Alien.
Under its seats, Faraday claims the lithium-ion batteries have twice the density of other batteries available today. Of course, Lucid made similar claims, and by the time either the FF 91 or Air is introduced, Tesla and others are likely to have access to similar power batteries, as they share suppliers.
Like Lucid, Faraday has given rides to journalists to demonstrate the prowess of their machines, positioning it in mock drag races with other exotic cars. We’ll grant it’s fast, but Faraday refrained from even hinting at the potential price of the FF 91 when it hits the market in 2018. We’d guess it will be in Lucid Air and loaded Model X territory. They also failed to clarify who the target market might be. At least Lucid gave an indication that it was aiming at fulfilling the automotive dreams of those looking for sports car performance in a luxurious midsize car with a full-size car’s interior space and a load of advanced technology.
Looming over the extravaganza of Faraday’s first reveal were media reports of the company’s financial issues: payments stopped to the factory builders, departure of key personnel and a lack of transparency about the company’s structure or workings. All in all, ominous news for a large (1,440-person) company years away from a product launch.
And Then There’s the Big Boys
While Lucid and Faraday lay out their versions/visions of the automotive future, the big boys are not sitting around pretending Silicon Valley doesn’t exist. Daimler and General Motors – and they aren’t the only ones – have talked extensively about committing billions of dollars and focusing worldwide engineering resources on creating vehicles that will go toe-to-toe with Teslas and any newcomers, both in the luxury segment and in the much more competitive mass market.
These companies’ ace in the hole is, in both cases, the fact that they’ve been successfully building and marketing cars for more than 100 years, so they’ve got the business end of things under control. In GM’s case, the company showed its mettle by launching its Bolt EV well-ahead of the Tesla competitor. Daimler’s loud commitment was to spend $11 billion on its EV enterprise over the next 10 years, dropping 10 new electric models into the luxury market.
While projections indicate that Tesla’s profits on some of its automotive operations are a few years down the road, Daimler’s and GM’s investments (as well as those of other major automakers) are coming out of the profits they’re making on their current operations, which are doing quite well in this era of low gas prices. The big concern in the auto industry is about how to continue to generate profits in a high-volume, but not growing, market, and how much to focus on shifts to car sharing, autonomous vehicles and other mobility enterprises.
Oh, and did we mention that BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, Volvo, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Bentley (and others) are all developing electric cars?
Where does that leaves Lucid and Faraday? It’s not a rhetorical question. That matter of distinction should be a fundamental part of the companies’ business plans. So far (and this may be a testament to how far away they are from having a car to sell), only their investors have seen those plans.
by Michael Coates
Photos courtesy of GM, Future Faraday, and Lucid Motors.