Saudi-backed Lucid Motors spells out vision for the future of electric cars

Updated 21 February 2019

Saudi-backed Lucid Motors spells out vision for the future of electric cars

  • The Tesla rival is using a $1bn-plus investment from Saudi Arabia to build its first factory
  • Production hub in the Kingdom and an IPO are also on the cards

LONDON: For Lucid, one thing is clear: The US electric-vehicle company aims to build the “best car in the world.”

It certainly faces a lot of competition in that regard, given the raft of startups specializing in electric cars that have emerged in recent years, and Elon Musk’s Tesla being streets ahead in the mass-production race.

But Peter Rawlinson, chief technology officer at Lucid Motors, said that the company is catering to a swankier, “true luxury” market — with an investment of more than $1 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) helping to drive its first electric car into production. The California-based company hopes to sell the Lucid Air for “well north of $100,000” in 2021. 

“With the backing of PIF, (we can) propel the whole world toward a more sustainable mode of transport,” said Rawlinson.

“I’m sure that the people of Saudi Arabia will really take to the Lucid brand and Lucid products. We have a car which is very advanced in many ways and is taking electrification to the next step in a way that Tesla hasn’t.”

The investment from PIF is about much more than just getting the first cars off the production line, however. It is a “long-term” partnership, with a car factory in Saudi Arabia under consideration, said Rawlinson.

The engineer, who previously worked at rival Tesla, said that the financial backing from PIF, announced last year, will fund the $240 million cost of building the first phase of its factory in the US, and help to roll out Lucid’s store network and service support.

The factory will occupy a 500-acre plot in Arizona, and be dedicated to Lucid’s all-electric cars. 

“The first phase will allow (for) up to 20,000 units per annum. But longer-term, that factory can be expanded over 500 acres to build nearly 400,000 vehicles per year, and that is our long-term plan,” said Rawlinson. 

“It’s all been made possible by the over $1 billion investment from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia … It’s a long-term partnership, it’s a long-term strategic play.”

The investment from PIF won’t be a one-way street. As with some other investments made by Saudi Arabia, the deal with Lucid is also likely to see benefits on the ground in the Kingdom. This could include an electric-car production facility in Saudi Arabia — which is significant, given that currently most cars sold in the country are imported. 

“I can see a really bright future, with a tangible manufacturing facility or facilities,” Rawlinson said. “We’d love to do that (in Saudi Arabia). We’re currently in a period where we are investigating all these options.”

Rawlinson, who is British but based in the US, added that it is “early days” for such a plan, but said that he sees many opportunities for electric vehicles in Saudi Arabia — not least, because of the abundant sunshine and potential for solar power.

“Through that alliance (with PIF) we are currently working on potential partnerships and activities where we can enhance the economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a very positive way,” he said. 

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READ MORE: Tesla rival Lucid Motors wants to build factory in Saudi Arabia

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“We can help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia move toward their 2030 vision and become less dependent upon their oil reserves and introduce sustainable technologies into their economy which will really benefit the country as a whole and provide many high-tech jobs.

“Also we have a partnership which extends to providing career opportunities here in Silicon Valley for some of the cream of Saudi university students, particularly in the areas of mechanical engineering … through an exchange program that we’re putting in place.” 

Rawlinson sees a “very significant” market in Saudi Arabia, despite electric cars having made few inroads in the Kingdom so far. 

“When Lucid Air comes along, people will see the full manifestation of what is possible with an electric car,” he said.

But bringing an electric car — or any car — into the market is an extremely tough task for a startup. And it is an increasingly crowded space, with the likes of Faraday Future, the China-based Byton, Michigan’s Rivian and Workhorse all specializing in electric cars, along with many of the big mainstream auto makers. 

Even Tesla has struggled to get cars built, with Elon Musk famously describing the “production hell” that his company has faced. 

Rawlinson said that Lucid has one key advantage over its peers: The proprietary technology behind its “powertrain” — basically, the components that make the car’s wheels turn — and the company’s 300-odd patents.

“The Public Investment Fund are pretty shrewd investors, pretty canny. And they did a very thorough survey of the entire market, and very, very intelligent, probing due diligence, as you would expect,” Rawlinson said.

“A key reason why they selected Lucid was our world-class electric powertrain technology … You cannot buy a motor as advanced as ours. Tesla’s motors are not as advanced as ours. They’re world-class.

“Another reason was the alignment with the management team’s vision for making the very best car in the world.”

The Lucid Air certainly packs a punch: It has a range of some 400 miles — more than the 310 miles of the top-spec Tesla Model 3 — and reached a terrifying 235 miles per hour in tests.

Next steps include making 80 beta prototypes of the car, or parts of it, before building the factory and starting production at the end of 2020. 

It will be priced “well north of $100,000” to begin with, Rawlinson said, although the price could eventually be brought down to around $60,000 for lower-spec versions. 

Lucid positions itself squarely in the super-luxury market, with the Air model seen competing with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The Lucid Air is the company’s first car, but Rawlinson said that an initial public offering (IPO) could happen in years to come, to fund development of future models.

“Sometime in the future, in the next few years, once we’ve got the car into production, maybe we show a second product … when we feel that the moment is right, an IPO is very much part of that future landscape,” Rawlinson said. 

The engineer brushed off the idea of a competitive threat from Elon Musk’s Tesla, where he once worked as chief engineer for the Model S.

“We don’t see Tesla as a key, direct competitor. We see the German gasoline cars — the petrol engine cars … as our core competitive set,” he said. 

“I’ve spoken to many people … who would gladly buy an electric car but say they’re not going to give up their Mercedes-Benz to buy a Tesla because of the interior. You’ve only got to step inside a Tesla to realize it’s not true luxury.”

Elon Musk would probably disagree with that — but it is the opinion of the monied car-buyers of the future that will be key to Lucid’s success.


Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

Updated 13 November 2019

Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

  • The former motor giant chief’s legal team has alleged that both his arrest and the prosecution efforts have been illegal

TOKYO: The drama surrounding the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, former boss of motor giants Nissan and Renault, has yet to reach its climax. Yet the plot continues to thicken with each new development.

On Monday, Ghosn’s defense lawyers unveiled court submissions highlighting the circumstances in which the 65-year-old executive was arrested and subsequently held in detention.

“We believe that Mr. Carlos Ghosn is innocent. We believe that the arrest and the prosecution efforts thus far are illegal and therefore Mr. Ghosn should be immediately released,” the head of his defense team, Junichiro Hironaka, said during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo on Monday.

Hironaka claimed that Nissan wanted to kick out Carlos Ghosn from the company and therefore put together a team dedicated to searching around for something that would justify them to do that.

“This prosecution motion wasn’t initiated because the prosecution side believed that Mr. Ghosn had committed an illegal act. Fundamentally there is a problem with this being treated as a criminal act,” he said.

Hironaka further said that the prosecutor’s office is supposed to be acting in the public good for everyone and not behalf of a specific corporation.

“From the investigation level, there were various problems and mistakes with this case. Furthermore, the Japanese persecution office can’t reach overseas so they rely on Nissan employees to go into Mr. Ghosn’s offices and residences and removed objects illegally,” he said.

Hironaka said there is no evidence to support the alleged wrongdoing claim that Nissan made payments to SBA in Oman, and Ghosn re-directed that money to himself or his family.

“The amounts that were paid by Nissan matched exactly the amounts due to SBA,” he said.

The lawyer had a similar response to the reports connecting some donations by Ghosn to a school in Lebanon that would somehow benefit himself. “There is absolutely no evidence or factual basis for indicating that,” Hironaka said.

He said that his team is trying to access correct information and find out what evidence the prosecution might have.

“I have made an effort to share information with the media, including the foreign media, during this whole pre-trial motion,” he said.

Under the Japanese system, the prosecutors are not required to disclose all the evidence at their disposal. Japanese law requires that prosecutors must disclose anything related to any evidence related to the specific filings they make.

They must also disclose any evidence that is related to the filings that are made by the defense counsel. However, there is no requirement for them to disclose evidence from other parts.

Ghosn was arrested at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Nov. 19, 2018, on multiple charges related to his stewardship of the two companies.

The cases involved not only Nissan-Renault and Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors (part of the Franco-Japanese alliance), but also the Japanese and French governments along with various key players from Asia and the Middle East.

Nissan was on the brink of bankruptcy in March 1999, with about 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) in interest-bearing debt.

This is when it entered a capital partnership with major French automaker Renault SA. Ghosn has been credited for turning the company around dramatically since then.

However, fears that the high-profile CEO and chairman was planning to merge Nissan into a much larger multinational motor alliance appeared to have fueled speculation regarding the future of the company.

It was reportedly argued within Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government that the automaker would no longer be recognizably Japanese.

The case has larger ramifications and the two governments have routinely become involved in discussions related to its future.

According to news reports, when Macron and Abe met in Buenos Aires, the French president asked that the Franco-Japanese alliance be maintained.

On being asked by Arab News Japan about reports of a prosecution team visiting Saudi Arabia and Oman, Hironaka confirmed that the visit indeed took place after Ghosn’s arrest.

“However, we have not been given any access to any information that they may or may not have gathered there,” he said.