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A Lucid Air electric vehicle in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Sept. 27, 2021.HYUNJOO JIN/Reuters

Lucid Group Inc., a Silicon Valley upstart, made waves last year in the increasingly crowded electric vehicle market by delivering a luxury sedan that one-ups Tesla.

The Lucid Air, the brand’s first car, is a luxury sedan with up to 837 kilometres of range and a dual-motor drivetrain, developed in-house, that can churn out a supercar-crushing 1,200 horsepower. In those two key measures, at least, the Lucid beats Tesla’s venerable Model S, not to mention every EV from every long-running car company. Such performance comes at an eye-watering price of $327,500, but even the entry-level $121,500 Air sedan has 480 horsepower and 660 kilometres of range.

Review: I’ve never driven a car like the Lucid Air

As Lucid’s senior vice-president of design and brand, Derek Jenkins was, among other things, responsible for the Air’s slippery aerodynamic shape, which helps it achieve those impressive performance figures.

The key, Jenkins says over a video call from Lucid’s Silicon Valley headquarters, was to focus on efficiency.

“If I can make the vehicle go farther on a kilowatt of power, then we can start to take out some of the batteries and then we can reduce the weight,” Jenkins says.

Indeed, of all the 2023 EVs rated by Natural Resources Canada, the Lucid Air is the most efficient, using the electrical equivalent of just 1.7 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. The Tesla Model S is rated at 2.0, while some high-performance Mercedes and BMW models are in the 3.0 range, and the Rivian R1T pickup averages 3.4.

“Our motors, you can put it in a carry-on bag. It’s 650 horsepower that I can hold in my hands – that’s the motor, transmission and the inverter,” Jenkins says. The company’s propriety design is compact and efficient, as MotorTrend magazine explained. Lucid recently revealed that its motors will be used in the race cars of this year’s Formula E, the world’s premier EV racing series.

Efficiency isn’t something many people likely think about when choosing an EV, Jenkins says, but it – along with good design and fast recharging speeds – will become more important as differentiators, he predicts.

Greater efficiency, he explains, enables smaller batteries, lower weights, less material, better handling and ultimately lower prices for consumers – and that’s as true for high-end luxury cars like the Lucid as it is for pickups, SUVs and sports cars.

The shape of the car plays a key role in achieving the utmost energy efficiency. The Air’s extremely low 0.197 drag coefficient makes it slip through the air with less resistance, making better use of its battery power than either the Tesla Model S or Mercedes-EQS sedan. Conversely, the tall, blunt face of the Rivian R1T pickup has a 3.0 drag coefficient, contributing to its less efficient performance.

Jenkins sees plenty of room for improvement where EV design is concerned.

“We’re still designing the front of cars like they need massive amounts of air, and it’s the opposite. [EVs] should be like a jet, clean and fast,” he says. Unlike EVs, gas-burning cars use gaping grilles to suck in air that cools and feeds the engine.

“I see this first wave of mainstream electric cars and I feel like it’s the same old stuff just with electric drivetrains. There’s an opportunity to be bolder than that,” he says. “Why should it look like a gasoline car? That doesn’t make any sense. In my book, by definition, that’s bad design. I equate it to the early days when we got rid of the horses, but the cars still looked like buggies for a long time. How long are we going to keep mimicking a gas-engined car until we really break through?”

Lucid Motors is a relative newcomer to the EV market and offers several versions of its sedan with up to 1,111 horsepower on tap. James Engelsman and Thomas Holland from Throttle House test an Air Dream Edition Performance and find an EV with the speed, handling, range and design to battle other electrics, with a hefty price tag to match.

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In the near term, the next 10 years or so, Jenkins sees EV designs converging somewhat. The need to accommodate compact electric motors and underfloor battery packs – combined with the desire for aerodynamic efficiency – is leading to more rounded, cab-forward, capsule-shaped vehicles. For examples, look at the Hyundai Ioniq 6, Mercedes EQE and EQS sedans and SUVs, the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model Y, Kia EV6, Volkswagen ID.4 and, yes, the Lucid Air.

There’ll be more opportunity for experimentation down the road, Jenkins says. “Over time, as electrification and the infrastructure becomes more mainstream, that’ll open up the desire and freedom for, let’s say, more alternative layouts,” he predicts.

Following the Air sedan, Lucid will produce an SUV, dubbed Gravity, which is slated for 2024. Next up is a third, less-expensive model, which Jenkins described as, “probably a little bit more youthful, and a little bit more sporty than the Lucid Air and Gravity.” He said customers should expect to see that car around the middle of the decade.

Lucid Motors produced only 7,180 cars last year, which was in line with its most recent target, but a far cry from the 20,000 units originally planned for 2022. The company cited supply-chain disruptions and logistical issues as reasons for the revised production outlook. This year, the company aims to produce 10,000 to 14,000 cars, which will make the Air a (slightly) less rare sight on our roads.