There are many clever ideas behind the Lucid Gravity SUV that was unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show this month – some simple, some not so simple, and some a bit of a stretch.
The most obvious was the concept of “frunking,” in which Lucid Group Inc. chief executive officer Peter Rawlinson finished his stage presentation by sitting next to chief designer Derek Jenkins on a seat inside the Gravity’s large front trunk. It looked great, though in truth, it was just several padded cushions, one of which could be draped over the front bumper to make a more comfortable seat. (With no front grille, there’s nothing to block your legs from hanging down.) Vans, wagons, SUVs and pickup trucks have done this for more than half a century at the tailgate, though Lucid may be the first to think of it at the front.
Not so simple is the use of 900-volt battery technology, which allows for denser batteries that charge more quickly than the 400 and 800 volts of the company’s competition. Lucid says this allows the new Gravity to drive more than 700 kilometres with a battery pack that’s nearly half the size of some of its rivals.
“There are effectively two ways to achieve range,” said Rawlinson. “The first is to simply cram in as many batteries as possible. This is a horrible low-tech solution which can profoundly compromise the vehicle, and it’s sadly the approach taken by many others. We call this ‘dumb range.’”
Naturally, he wanted to talk about his company’s alternative way of doing things.
“Lucid’s approach is to develop cutting-edge EV technology,” he said. He touted the company’s advanced motoring drive units as well as “race-developed battery technology” that operates at an ultra-high voltage. “This enables a Lucid to travel farther, with less battery size than any other vehicles available today. This truly is smart range.”
Lucid’s claim is that the upcoming Gravity SUV can drive up to 5.8 kilometres on a single kilowatt-hour of electricity, which Rawlinson said is almost twice as far as some of its competition. It’s not so easy to compare because the number is usually given as a measure of kilowatt-hours per mile or kilometre.
In his claim, he’s probably including the GMC Hummer EV and Ford Lightning pickup, which the U.S. Department of Energy says (after converting the original statistics) can drive 2.6 kilometres and 3.3 kilometres on each kilowatt-hour, respectively. The full-size Kia EV9 SUV drives 3.89 kilometres per kilowatt-hour, but the Tesla Model Y drives 5.75 kilometres per kilowatt-hour and the larger Model X drives 4.9 kilometres.
“There are a lot of vehicles coming on the road today that have just enormous battery packs,” said Jenkins, the chief designer, “and it gets to a point where you’ve already made the vehicle big and heavy, and now you’ve got an even bigger battery. Now it’s even heavier, and now the car has to get even larger, and it’s got less space inside, it handles worse, and it’s like a perpetual weight battle you’re fighting, and the efficiency goes out the door. And that’s just not the Lucid kind of way of approaching it.”
Jenkins said Lucid is more efficient than its competition in every way.
“It’s not just the 900-volt technology,” he said. “The efficiency comes from our motors, our drivetrains, our inverters, our ‘wunderbox’ (bi-directional charging unit). These are all in-house technologies. We don’t buy our components from Bosch – we’ve developed them, and they’re the most efficient drivetrains on the planet.”
The new Gravity certainly seems to be efficient. Its battery pack is almost identical in size to the pack that powers the existing Air sedan, though it’s stacked twice as high under the front row and just half as deep under the second and third rows, to raise the SUV’s driver and create more space for the passengers behind. The pack weighs almost 700 kilograms. In comparison, a Tesla Model Y battery pack weighs 771 kilos.
Inside, the Gravity offers luxurious space for either five or seven people, as well as 3,171 litres of usable cargo space if the seats are all folded flat. Electric vehicles offer more room inside their cabins for new ideas because they don’t have driveshafts and large engines and transmissions to get in the way. It also helps that the Gravity will start at just under US$80,000 when it comes on sale in a year’s time. This ties in with the current pricing of the Air sedan, which begins in Canada at $101,800 and rises through four more trims to a lofty $327,500.
“We’re not the cheapest, but we’re not the most expensive, either,” said Jenkins.
The SUVs at the show both featured Lucid’s Clearview Cockpit: Their steering wheels are flattened at the top to not obscure the driver’s view of the instrument readouts, and most of the vehicle’s features are controlled through an enormous 34-inch curved OLED display, matched to a second large screen above the centre console. The whole thing can also be set to display calming images from nature or to provide a meditation experience with breathing exercises, combined with seat massage and gently blowing air vents – all for a few minutes of calm, perhaps while waiting for your kids to come out from school. You may not want to talk to the other parents, after all.
“The wide display is standard on everything,” Jenkins said. “Even the base car will have a degree of those features, but we’re looking at how to scale that.”
And that’s the thing with the new Gravity. It will be gorgeous, it will be powerful, and it will be expensive. Rawlinson calls it “the big one for us – totally transformative.” But the vaunted 700-kilometre range will come at additional cost over the base model, and so will the claimed acceleration of 3.5 seconds from zero to 100 kilometres an hour, and so will the meditation screens and the fast wunderbox and the 2,720 kilograms of towing capacity. The cushions in the frunk should be affordable, but it will take another year to find out just how much all the extras cost for the new Gravity.
“There’s a lot of newness happening and it’s accelerating, and Lucid is in the forefront of that,” said Jenkins. “Startups and even Chinese brands, pushing like hell to get established.”
He’s right. It was great to see the impressive Gravity at the Los Angeles show, but with electric vehicles, everything can change in a year.
The writer was a guest of Toyota, which was at the show with a revamped Camry and new Crown crossover. Content was not subject to approval.