Lucid Motors Peter Rawlinson on Delays, OEM, Too Expensive, Self-Driving, Gravity SUV, Electric Aircraft


Electric Future: what’s going on with you guys over there how’s production going are there any updates since we last spoke?

Peter Rawlinson: oh right well we’ve completed our factory the phase one of our amp factory in casa grande and we’re actually building our pre-production cars off the line there and i had the pleasure of drawing of our very latest ones just last week in a video we put out yesterday and each one is getting progressively better we’re going to build probably about 120 of those before we actually get to start a production proper and we just got to dial in this and get the quality right excellent yeah i remember that you guys had a tentative spring date for uh the release so is there any is there any update on that is ahead has it yeah it has we we were pushing for spring and um you know we we we i was pushing like crazy to get it ready for the start of production for spring and then when we went through the the spec process with churchill capital and i spoke with Michael Klein and and his key advisors technical advisor Alan Mullally of ford fame we really had a meeting of mines and they said look peter why are you pushing like crazy for spring, we need to get the quality right whatever happens and so they took that burden off me they entrusted me to um just prioritize the quality rather than the artificiality of a deadline you know the end of spring june 21st and so we decided that since we were going to go public through that merger process that we’d better under promise and over deliver as a public company so conservatively we said look second half of 21 for start of production and we put that in all the merger documentation from the outset so uh you know as as a merged company with the with the manifesto for merger that was clearly there from the start second half of 21. and that means that i can focus on getting the quality right and because this is a one-shot deal you know if you look at when tesla launched model s back here 10 years ago everyone was so blown away by electric performance they kind of forgave the quality issues they were kind of lost in the weeds because the car was so fantastic i think that we will not be cut that level of slack quite frankly i think we’ve got a much more mature market now the customers are going to be that much more discerning and we just have to get the quality right now this is against the backdrop of of of launching a new product a new company first product again with a world pandemic and that has affected so many of our suppliers and that’s impacted upon their ability to provide quality parts on time and that’s been the main reason for this this change of timing to go into second half of the year we’ve got about 3,000 parts coming in from 200 and roughly 250 suppliers from right around the world and some of those are doing a fantastic job and others it’s very challenging because normally we’d have our sqa teams visiting those suppliers at their plants the supplier quality audit teams those employees of lucid who would go and check that those suppliers are on track on time and making the parts to acceptable quality and that’s normal our sqa teams will be flying around the world visiting plants on all continents and and and with a finger on the pulse as we get this to this point of convergence at start of production and of course they haven’t been able to do that because of and not in all cases but in many and so coordinating all that convergence of great quality pro parts from a worldwide supply base has been an extraordinary challenge because of the pandemic it’s always difficult at the best of times and and and particularly since we’re aiming for such a high high benchmark a high bar in terms of the quality then of course we’re doing the the final test on the actual product we have to get the the car epa range certified with the environmental protection agency and so that’s one activity stream another one of course before we can legally sell the car we have to do all our crash test program through the fmvss the federal vehicle motor safety standards although we’ve done a lot of crash testing very successfully with our prototype data fleet none of that counts because you have to in order to homologate a car that’s to make it legally able to sell in the u.s you actually have to crash test the actual production process representative cards so it doesn’t count because the prototypes aren’t too production processed you effectively have to make those cars on your production line with production representative parts and production representative process and you only get to that stage by its very nature just before you’re ready to go into production so it’s always it’s always this sort of um um unnerving moment i mean as as i’ve been chief engineer for many many years it’s always the the the the the the litmus test for a chief engineer is crash test and it’s always for any program really close to when you start production so you know the but really stops there 

Electric Future: So one of the most common complaints in my video was that people love the car so much but they just wish they could afford it, so i was wondering if you could speak more to your methodology and strategy behind launching an expensive car first and then kind of learn taking the lessons learned and working your way down eventually to an affordable mass-market electric vehicle which seems to be the strategy that some of the other electric automakers have chosen in the early stages as well but i’d like for you to expand on that if possible.

Peter Rawlinson: that’s a great point because you know i really empathize i read all these comments and they say oh another electric car that’s really expensive a rich man’s toys what the world needs is a thirty thousand dollar car for the man in the street and i couldn’t agree more and then you think well why am i doing this and so this is so misunderstood there’s a great paradox almost the more expensive the car the less it costs to design develop and put in production now let’s let’s look at two extremes take a rolls-royce versus say a volkswagen golf now the rolls-royce is made in tiny numbers largely hand built in quite a small plant and the tools to make it because you’re not making so many they don’t have to be such high quality high investment tooling so actually putting a new rolls royce into production doesn’t take that much money in relative terms on the other hand if you look at the volkswagen golf that’s a product that needs to be literally made by the millions so it needs a massive factory high degree of automation and it becomes a numbers game high numbers low margin that cost tens of billions to do that project so you’ve got this correct paradox that you’d think well the expensive car that no the expensive car is actually less capital intensive than the less expensive car and that’s why tesla started with model s and moved to model three and it’s only now they’re in a position where they’ve got sufficient um where with all they’ve got sufficient financial muscle and maturity as an organization that they can contemplate doing this sort of mythical twenty five thousand dollar car but there’s another reason so i mean you could say well i’ll get first of all um if i try to make the car i want to make is the $25,000 car really but if i’d gone to the market and said look we’re new company lucid and we’ve got 50 people and can you give us um 25 billion dollars so we can make a $25,000 car whether this has gone bankrupt no one would no one would be interested but to do a high-end car it requires less capital to start with and we’ve been able to do that we’ve been able to secure that capital with great partners and we’ve been able to survive so the the we will progressively move to more affordable cars we’ll take air from 161 tax incentive we’re going to take that down under 70 by next year in 2022 uh we’re going to bring out gravity but then my passion is to do our second platform uh mid-decade and that will be after $45,000 and then after that you could say well hmm it’s going to take what seven or eight years before lucid’s big enough and has access to sufficient finances to do a 25 000 car dollar car which would be my my dream and i think well i’m really about the environment and global warming and the world can’t wait eight nine ten years for lucy to get big enough to do that we need millions of electric cars fast and all those comments that people say we need we need affordable cars i totally get it and i totally agree with them it’s not me going on an ego trip to make the world’s best car it’s that’s that will define the brand the first product defines the brand so how could we sort of uh square this circle and i i think there is a way i think that if we could make our technology licensed to other Automakers to traditional oems maybe it’s them that make the 25 surprise you and i i won’t surprise you even because you’ve you’ve seen the technology that we’ve got um that although we’re using it in a high-end car we’ve paid so much attention to mass producing that electric technology the battery pack the motor the inverter transmission that entire system and the wonder box that we’ve made it so that it’s truly mass manufacturable much more than anything else in the marketplace today and that’s that would surprise some people that is our mission our mission is to truly mass industrialize electric uh cars and electric power train systems 

Electric Future: For the time being a lot of people seem to enjoy driving their cars but a lot of people argue that the general trend heading for fully autonomous transportation as a safer alternative and just the way that makes the most sense for people to get around when we’re living in the future so how does lucid think about fully autonomous driving and and how is your system now designed to eventually play into that?

Peter Rawlinson: right well we’ve got uh we’re launching uh the the dream edition with dream drive lucid dream drive and we’ve got we’ve taken the approach that we need to be world-class in terms of the hardware suite for it i’ll go into the software in in a moment so we’ve got for dream drive we’ve got integrated 32 sensor suite we’ve got surround near range rate radar we’ve got a long range radar in the nose and we’ve also got 120 degree solid state lidar in the in the nose and that’s good for about 140 meters so we’ve got a super comprehensive sensing suite we’ve got two terabytes of on-board storage a massive uh computer computing power and we link a lot of this with our ethernet ring our gigabit um highway in the car a nodal ring which is revolutionary and and the car is super connected as well so we’ve got the the the ability to get big data to and from the car and really the ultimate in sensing but let me tell you the enormity of the challenge to solve say a level four autonomous software um anecdotally the general consensus in silicon valley where i am here today uh is that that is a 10 billion dollar and 10 year problem and i was talking to a a renowned executive just the other weekend and he said no peter you’ve got it wrong it’s a lot more than 10 billion dollars nobody really knows now this was really hot um hot stuff a few years ago everybody was predicting fleets of robo taxis by 2018 bearish about it and i i was i am bullish about really taking electric cars to another level i don’t think they’ve been optimized at all yet i think there’s a lot more mileage in electric car technology but i’m quite i’m quite reserved about my view about when we get to level four autonomous uh i think it’s a considerable intellectual problem and if it’s if it don’t get me wrong i think it’s a matter of when it happens not if so you know we didn’t have access we don’t have access at lucid to spend 10 billion dollars on on software so while taking the approach pragmatically have been competitive we’ll go to market with a level two maybe a level two plus uh level of autonomous driving and we can over the air upgrade that car with a sensor suite is good for level three we know that but pragmatically do i then spend billions on developing in-house ad software when you know that we need every penny to get um you know our a range of products out now i know i think the pragmatic roots would be would potentially be to partner with someone else in silicon valley on the software and that’s the pragmatist in min do you guys have any plans for providing that technology for other car manufacturers are you guys keeping all the juice to yourself no i’d love to that’s one that’s that’s the vision that i you know what we what we’re going to do is going to be huge i mean people think we’re just going to be this niche player just doing luxury electric cars that’s how tesla started tesla just was a niche player doing model s and it grew into this mighty oak from this little acorn and and and we’re really like where tesla was 10 years ago um first product high-end car but already with energy storage first prototype ess system here in the building we’ve got a solar farm fitted out on the roof now that’s nearly complete and we’re going to hook that up later this month we’re going to get a beta prototype rolled out i want to put that in the factory in arizona and i want to start industrializing uh commercial energy storage systems battery electric next year so that’s going to be one division so there’s going to be lucid cars are energy storage systems and then lucid technologies now great example of lucid technologies is what we’re doing with the world championship electric racing series supplying the battery you saw that when you during the course of your visit and that’s been very successful um and although a tiny revenue stream for us, but in terms of learning it’s been invaluable i’d love to supply our technology to a whole range of other car companies to other industries to agriculture to mining i think there’s going to be explosion of EVTOL aircraft over the next decade and i don’t worry i’m not planning to go to the aircraft business but they all need a really you know uh gravimetrically energy and power dense integrated um powertrain electric powertrain system and that’s exactly what we’ve got our technology ideally lends itself to uh now regarding that transfer to other car companies are the the drive unit that you saw is rated up to 670 horsepower i don’t think a honda civic or a a volkswagen golf needs 670 horsepower so we would have to develop a scaled down version of that but you saw how compact the version at you can literally put it into a flight bag at 74 kilos imagine if we did a version which was like literally the size of a shoebox and you know think of that what that would do how it could transform a small family car because it would actually have it would have offer less incompressible distance at the front of the car so it would free up more crumpled space and it would actually make the car safer so that miniaturization not only would it make more legroom and more practicality in that smaller car it would actually save lives as well and that is the that is the prize that we have at our fingertips.

Electric Future: Do you anticipate that there’s any possibility that becoming a supplier could eventually become the majority of lucid’s business over being a car manufacturer?

Peter Rawlinson: It could be, it could be. I think i think i i mean there’s three divisions we’re going to have our cars energy and technologies and suppliers and we’re already talking to a well-known established um car company now regarding the supply and i’ve actually had a number of inquiries just this this year and and right now it’s difficult to do that because i’m so focused laser focus on getting the lucid air into production and that is you know 99 of our uh focus is on that right now um so uh but it’s it’s nice that that companies are already approaching us i’m not reaching out to them so with the lucid air as the primary focus i’m wondering um where project gravity the suv is is that project on hold when you’re making such a strong push for the lucid air is there ongoing development on the suv as well happening simultaneously yeah i think it’s about one or two percent of our efforts is pushing um gravity along and that sounds small but we’ve got 2 000 people now so you can have the advanced engineering team the advanced studio team most of the studio Derek Jenkins studio is working on gravity right now there’s a tiny amount of work finishing touches on lucid air but the bulk studio work is in gravity i had a great design review just this week at the back of the studio to review the latest design themes it’s making great progress and we’ve got a small team of advanced engineering engineers working on gravity and this is normal you know when you start a program and you do the advanced engineering phase it’s just to lay out the car and establish the key parameters where people sit with the line of sight are the legal visions what we call the h points the heel points at the h30 dimension which is the height of the heel point of the the point rather above the heel point um and and and and the seating layout and the overall proportions of the car you know you can do a lot with about you know just five or six engineers 10 is is it can really hit that quite hard so we’re at that stage in advanced engineering of gravity.

Electric Future: So you know i’ve been i’ve been bugging you about this but my most important question is, when can i drive one?

Peter Rawlinson: well i no i would love you to drive them but there are there are there are issues i’m allowed to drive it because i’m approved an approved test driver so legally i can because we have certain suppliers doing anti-lock braking systems tuning traction control system and legally we can’t give this to people outside the company to test drive unless there’s an exceptional circumstance and and then exceptional circumstances where Alan Mullally actually drove the car and we made provision for that but if you look at the industry standard when did a test when did a journalist first drive a ford mach e well that was very close to when it was started production if you look at when model s was launched journalists didn’t drive model s three four months before start of production it was only when it was in production the journalists drove the car and the same is true with model 3 and every other car company in the world because we have to get it right for our customers and we don’t want journalists to to be um underwhelmed with anything other than the final product which is good enough for our customers so you actually get this convergence point that it’s good enough for the customers at sop at the same time it’s good enough to hand to a journalist so i i would love to but we can do rides in the car and and i’m actually i very much welcome you to take you for a ride in the car.

Electric Future: How do you think how do you think about how some of the innovations you guys have made on lucid could translate over to aircraft electric aircraft? Do you have any ideas on that just off the cuff?

Peter Rawlinson: Im seeing incredible opportunity there because you know um in the ev tour space and there are there are so many opportunities for electric motors because you can run multi-propeller systems you can have miniature motors you know you’ve seen a lot of these designs having like 14-15 propellers and you could never do that with internal combustion you could not really do that with jets but you can do that with micro motors distributed and that gives i mean you can start playing with co-ender effects inducing co-enders uh you know and all these advanced aerodynamic techniques through adopted multi-fan solutions so you know i think there’s a world of opportunity there but what they all want is gravimetric energy density and gravimetric power density and that’s what we’ve got that’s kind of what i discovered in doing my research and that all these separate teams all over the world working independently there’s kind of some convergent evolution that they all arrived on distributed electric propulsion multiple motors being the key solution and and i think because our technology’s scalable they’re not they’re not going to use a single 670 horsepower version of our motor what we need to do is make 67 horsepower well 60 horsepower versions of it that are this size you know and and and and have that distributed and a distributed um propulsion architecture now what i think where we could be a real gift to that whole revolution is that heaven knows it’s it’s challenging enough for a small company to start up and create an electric aircraft but if they’re trying to solve the electric powertrain as well as doing that aircraft i mean that really multiplies uh the challenge and it multiplies the risk of failure and and it’s interesting you know with um with with jet engines it there were you know the rolls-royce aero engines and pratt and whitney that that became it became a standard uh jet solution you know boeing would buy in the jet could we become the rolls royce era engines of EVTOL. There’s a a mouth-watering prospect we’re many steps away from that but i can see the opportunity.