By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business
The Lucid Air Dream Edition was recently rated by the Environmental Protection Agency with an estimated range of 520 miles on a full charge. This is the longest range of all pure battery powered cars yet rated by the EPA, including Tesla’s Model S Long Range.
It’s not just a little longer either. The Air goes about 115 miles farther on a charge than the Tesla. This is even further than most gasoline cars can travel with a full tank.
But Lucid chief executive Peter Rawlinson, who previously worked at Tesla and helped design the original Model S, believes number, 520 miles, is not really that important. On the one hand, this range is not cheap. Prices for the Lucid Air sedan start at $ 74,000, but prices for the Dream Edition are more than double, starting at $ 169,000.
Behind that number, however, lies another rarely discussed statistic that Rawlinson says will decide the winners and losers in the future world of electric cars: efficiency.
With greater energy efficiency, which contributes to the long range of Lucid Air, electric cars will become accessible at all price ranges, he said. In fact, one of Rawlinson’s side projects is to apply some of the efficiency tricks used at Lucid to something he calls “T21,” which means “the T-model for the 21st century.” It would be a car with a long enough range that almost anyone can afford.
“The Ford Model T really mobilized humanity in the last century, in the 20th century,” said Rawlinson. “In the end, it had a devastating impact on the planet. We have this generation of engineers, technologists and designers. It is within our grasp to try to repair the damage caused by mankind.
Lucid, a California-based company, recently started production of the Air electric sedan at its plant in Arizona.
Some the same types of techniques used to design expensive cars with very long range can help do that, Rawlinson said, can be applied to inexpensive cars that will travel shorter distances that are still practical for most people.
The balancing act
Like the huge horsepower figures of performance cars, the long range on electric cars will be something people can brag about, but it will have little practical use in real life, Rawlinson said. After all, most EV owners will charge overnight at home or at work, and when making long trips, public chargers will be available at intervals of much less than 500 miles.
And the trick to getting longer-range digits isn’t particularly difficult with current technology, Rawlinson said. When it comes to getting a long range, or just a useful range, the easiest way to do it is to just pack more batteries.
“I call it a stupid race,” Rawlinson said. “It’s not technology.”
The biggest problem with this method is that batteries are expensive, and even if battery prices go down, they still won’t be really cheap. Second, batteries add a lot of weight and take up space, which means vehicles with longer range will tend to be bigger and heavier or have less room inside. The upcoming GMC Hummer EV, for example, peaks at over 9,000 pounds.
Increasing efficiency is one way to break that connection.
“If I could get 20% more efficiency, I could go 20% more for a given amount of energy,” Rawlinson said. “The corollary of that is that, on the contrary, I could cover the same distance with 20% less battery.”
For the T21 car project, Rawlinson envisions a battery weighing around 275 pounds that would take the compact car to around 150 miles. That’s a lot less driving distance per charge than Lucid’s offerings, but it would also cost a lot less.
Automakers have been striving to increase the efficiency of automobiles for decades, no matter what fuels them. Considering the importance of range to consumers, most automakers focus heavily on the fuel efficiency of their electric cars. But few have been able to beat the energy efficiency of Rawinson’s former employer, Tesla. Lucid seems to be an exception.
An easy way to compare the efficiency of electric cars is to use the EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov website as you would to see the efficiency of a gasoline car. The website will show you the MPGe, or the equivalent in miles per gallon, of any electric car sold in the United States. It is a measure of the distance traveled by a vehicle with an amount of electricity equivalent to the energy of a gallon of gasoline.
The 520 mile version of the Lucid Air, the Air Dream R, has an MPGe of 125. Surprisingly, this is not the most efficient version of the Lucid Air. The Lucid Air Grand Touring has a range of just 516 miles, but it has an MPGe of 131.
The Tesla Model S Long Range, although very impressive in its efficiency, is still a little more energy intensive than the Lucid Air. The Porsche Taycan Turbo, on the other hand, is much less efficient. He has an MPge of just 73.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the efficiency gap.
Porsche spokesman Calvin Kim stressed that, just like with Porsche’s gasoline-powered cars, the focus is on overall performance, not maximum efficiency. Additionally, he said, Taycan owners routinely report longer runtimes (indicating better efficiency) than official EPA testing shows.
The factors that contribute to the efficiency of an electric car include many of those that impact the fuel efficiency of gasoline vehicles. Weight and aerodynamics are very important. just like the tires. The Lucid Air is fitted with low rolling resistance tires specially developed by Pirelli for Lucid.
Lucid has also developed its own compact electric motors which the company claims are the most energy efficient in the world. In addition, the cars use a 900-volt electrical system, which is superior to the already powerful 800-volt system used in the Porsche Taycan. A higher voltage allows electricity to flow more easily through the wires, so that a vehicle can use more power without the need for thicker, heavier cables.
Make it a business
Lucid will not be making the T21, Rawlison said, because it is a luxury car brand and the T21 would be anything but a luxury model. Rawlinson is more interested in seeing other automakers license the technology behind the T21. It doesn’t make him very attractive, however.
“I doubt my shareholders want me to do this because it’s a horrible business model,” he said. “You do the T21 project, it’s like high volume, low margin. “
Another company, however, might want to use the technology, he said. Many automakers operate in the high-volume, low-margin industry, making a larger amount of cheap cars rather than a few luxury vehicles. Perhaps whoever fell behind in the transition to electric cars could use some help to enter the market quickly with cutting edge technology.
Meanwhile, Lucid has started working on his own competitors Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, which Rawlinson calls Platform 2. These vehicles will cost around $ 45,000. Further cost savings are possible, he said.
“I’m telling you, we can get a $ 20,000 car,” he said.
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