Designed in California and built in Arizona, the Air’s headline-making numbers are an estimated 451-520 miles of range, depending on model/trim—figures that handily exceed Tesla’s long-legged Model S Long Range (405 miles). As to how the 6-year-old EV start-up managed to outdistance the mighty Tesla, the short answer is higher system voltage. We’ll get there.
I spent a few hours last week driving one of the investor early-bird specials: the limited-edition, all-sold-out Air Dream Edition Performance, with a dual-motor array maxing out at 1,111 hp, which turns out to be enough. Hunkered down on optional 21-inch summer Pirellis, and with a center of gravity seemingly at the center of the Earth, the Air DEP hurtled through miles of California-redwood country like a mag-lev roller coaster, after which I needed a high-tech luxury bucket. Oh yeah, it hustles. The car’s 0-60 mph acceleration (2.42 seconds) would draw a roughing-the-passer penalty in football. Superb brakes, too.
My inner geek thrilled as Lucid’s chief engineer Eric Bach, another Tesla veteran, showed off the company’s hot proprietary set-up: The astonishingly compact drive unit, a single machine integrating a 670-hp permanent-magnet motor, the power inverter, differential, final-drive reduction gear and axle flanges. All this in a space the size of a suitcase. The gear meshes are practically horological.
This miniaturization comes courtesy of higher system voltages—in this case, up to 924 Volts, about twice that of Tesla systems and even more than Porsche’s 800-Volt systems. Higher voltage brings with it a virtuous spiral of higher motor speed and performance at lower temperatures, allowing everything—like wire diameters, power inverters—to be smaller, lighter and closer. The drive units weigh a mere 163 pounds.
Now I’m interested.
Video » Motor Trend takes the 2022 Lucid Air for a drive