Opinion: When It Comes to EV Range, 520 Miles Are Too Many

Jo Borras
by Jo Borras

You can say what you want about Lucid Motors and their upcoming Air luxury sedan, but you can’t call their PR team “shy”.

“An absolute triumph of efficiency,” reads the headline. “Lucid Air achieves 520 miles of range … besting the closest competition by over 100 miles.”

Think about that. There is a fast, comfortable electric car that will go a full five-hundred and twenty miles before you need to stop and plug it in. As Jasper said when he stepped out the Kwik-E-Mart freezer, “What a time to be alive.”

But, like, do you really even want an electric car that can go 520 miles? The more I stare at that figure, the more I think the answer to that question is: Maybe I don’t.

THE NEED TO GO 520 MILES DOES NOT EXIST

You don’t need to go 520 miles in one shot, non-stop, for any reason. Even in the most optimistic scenario of open road driving at a steady 75 mph, that’s seven hours of solid driving. No food breaks. No bathroom breaks. Nothing, in other words, but the steady sounds of wind whipping around the side mirrors and tires rolling across the asphalt. For seven hours.

With the possible exception of Alex Roy and that one guy who thinks Cannonball drivers pissing mostly into a water bottle but also partly all over the front seats of a purpose-built RENNtech Mercedes-Benz CL600 is cool, does anyone genuinely want to spend that long in their car? Of course not – but that’s a straw man, and we’re better than that here on TTAC, I know. Still, in order for us to understand what the Lucid’s range is, we have to understand what it is not. And what it is not is a response to an actual need.

Make no mistake, it’s still a response. Once we understand what it’s a response to, exactly, we can start to understand what kind of product the Lucid Air really is, and who it’s for.

500 MILES IS A SYMBOL

Range anxiety. It seems like we’ve been talking about range anxiety for almost as long as we’ve been having conversations about electric cars, and the goal posts always seem to be moving. To their credit, Lucid seems to understand that. That’s why they chose to target that “500 mile” bogey, because 500 miles is somewhat symbolic of “a full day of driving” to most people.

Heck, Lucid probably has this article (or one very much like it) posted somewhere in their Newark, CA headquarters. I’ll save you a click: “You should not drive for more than 9 hours a day, excluding breaks,” says the Road Trip Expert. “For every 4.5 hours driving you should take breaks amounting to 45 minutes. For long-distance driving, this means you can drive around 500 miles safely in a day.”

What is being said, without explicitly saying it, is that you can drive your Lucid all day without worrying about charging.

That’s a powerful statement, albeit a useless one to anyone more than remotely aware of The State of Electric Charging in 2021, when the first large-scale deliveries of the Lucid Air Grand Touring will likely take place. Here’s what I mean by that.

That’s right, kids – after more than 450 miles of non-stop driving at a steady, unbroken 75 mph, it takes all of 28 minutes to charge a Lucid Air Grand Touring back to full.

Twenty-eight minutes. That’s barely enough time to take a good, bathroom-based Reddit scroll and stuff a McSubway King combo meal in your face.

I was thinking about that 28-minute charge time the other day while I was riding shotgun with my good friend, Matt Teske, in his Tesla Model 3. We plugged his car into one of the many Tesla Superchargers scattered around Irvine, California, walked across the parking lot to grab some grilled cheese sandwiches from the In-N-Out Burger. Nothing fancy, in other words – and, by the time we were full, so was the car, and we were ready to go for another 230-odd miles.

In terms of down time, that twenty-minute stop is already comparable to an interstate stop that includes pumping a full tank of gas, potty break, and a quick meal … but people who haven’t experienced that kind of stop in an EV for themselves probably don’t believe it’s possible – or, at least not possible, today – and those are the people that Lucid is going to wow with that 520-mile EPA range.

There’s just one problem: Those people aren’t going to buy a Lucid Air.

WHO IS LUCID SELLING TO

From the beginning, Lucid has presented itself to the world as an upscale Tesla alternative. Where Tesla made do with falling bumpers, flying moonroofs, and Home Depot-level assembly line hacks, Lucid would be different. The build quality would be superb, they told us. Sitting in a Lucid Air would delight the sense with high-quality materials and a well-finished, thoroughly conceived user interface. There would be no consumer beta-testing here, in other words. The Lucid Air, it was promised, would be just like that Tesla Model S that Lucid CEO, Peter Rawlinson, engineered – only better.

All that was promised way back in 2016, when Atieva/Lucid first announced its intention to build and sell an electric, high-performance luxury vehicle. The Tesla Model 3 didn’t exist, yet. There was no Mustang Mach-E, no F-150 Lightning, no Rivian R1T, no GMC Hummer, and certainly no Cybertruck. In fact, there were really only two types of EVs available: the Model S, and a bunch of others that didn’t matter.

Today, as Lucids begin – finally! – rolling off the assembly line, that’s not the case. Lucid isn’t entering a EV market in competition with Tesla, it’s entering an EV market in competition with Cadillac, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Polestar. That’s just here in the US. In the all-important Chinese market, there are even more competitors, and they’re getting better every day.

So, sure, maybe the Lucid Air is built better than the Model S – but even Tesla buyers are starting to move on from the Model S, as evidenced by the increasing number of Teslas showing up in Porsche- and Audi-dealer used-car inventories. Does Lucid think they can compete with Porsche and Audi for build quality? How about Mercedes-Benz? That’s a very different proposition than going toe-to-toe with a Model 3’s IKEA-level interior, in my opinion.

Who, then, is Lucid really selling to?

With that five-hundred-mile range, it seems like the target Lucid buyer might be a luxury car buyer who also happens to be an EV holdout – but not necessarily someone who lives and dies by the roar of a V8 engine. Instead, this is an EV holdout who says things like, “I’ll buy an electric car when they get [some arbitrary number] miles of range,” or “when they go 0-60 faster than my [generic Boomer/tribal tattoo muscle car].” And, frankly, that guy sounds like he might be an engineer.

Engineers, you see, think in those terms: Targets. The engineering brief for the Lucid is easy enough to figure out, because it’s not masked by legacy styling cues or a need to be “authentic” to the brand. They had a target Cd, a target acceleration time, a target range – they probably had a target door gap, because the Lucid Air is literally the car you would get if you put an engineer in charge of the whole show, because that’s what Peter Rawlinson is. He’s an engineer, like Ferdinand Piëch was. But, unlike Piëch, he doesn’t have decades of history and brand legacy influencing his company’s products.

Also unlike Piëch, Peter Rawlinson doesn’t strike me as a racer, despite stints at Jaguar and Lotus Cars and Lucid’s role as a battery supplier in Formula E. Motorsports seems like a problem to be solved to him – and I say that with genuine respect and admiration for the guy. But Piëch understood that motorsport is not a rational pursuit.

Heck, Piëch understood better than most that top-shelf machinery of any kind is not a rational pursuit, which is why his vanity projects – cars like the Bugatti Veyron and Volkswagen XL1 – were built to hit targets, sure, but they felt like a much more confrontational flexing of mental muscle.

The Lucid? The Lucid seems like a very smart car, built by very smart people who believe that the market is smart enough to realize they have a superior product. A product that is faster, more efficient, and put together more solidly than everything else.

The Lucid may very well be all of those things, but those things rarely matter to the well-heeled enthusiasts who will be asked to part with $77,400 for the Lucid Air Pure – let alone the $169,000 Lucid is asking for its Dream Edition Air. To put it another way, the Mustang Mach-E may be among the fastest, most efficient, and best-built Mustangs ever made – it’s certainly better than my Fox-body 5.0 in every way – but it’s still “ not a real Mustang” to a whole lot of people … and those people wouldn’t be swayed by a 520-mile range. I have a feeling that the Mercedes-Maybach S and Alpina B7 buyers won’t be swayed by it, either.

And, for what it’s worth, I’d rather take the time to enjoy my lunch and stretch my legs a bit after three or four hours of driving – what about you?

[Images: Lucid, screenshot from Chargeway app]

Jo Borras
Jo Borras

I've been in and around the auto industry since 1997, and have written for a number of well-known outlets like Cleantechnica, the Truth About Cars, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can also find me talking EVs with Matt Teske and Chris DeMorro on the Electrify Expo Podcast, writing about Swedish cars on my Volvo fan site, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.

More by Jo Borras

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 137 comments
  • Chrisdswift Chrisdswift on Oct 07, 2021

    It is a mystery to us Brits why Americans and Canadians refer to toilets as 'bathrooms' even on an aeroplane! I've never come across a bath in these places. Would someone explain?

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Oct 07, 2021

    Another scenario where this kind of range would be helpful: - Charge vehicle at home on Thursday night. - Do the 60-mile commute on Friday (30 miles each way; don't charge at work). - Change clothes, load the car and drive 100 miles into the wilderness to camp for two nights (tent, next to the vehicle). - While there, use ~1/4 of the vehicle battery (130 'miles') to power campsite equipment (low amperage with long hours) and/or power equipment (high amperage with lower usage). - Drive 100 miles home. - Arrive home with ~1/4 charge remaining for contingency/reserve/cold weather/real life.

  • RobbyG The more I hear about 10-speed transmissions...the less likely I am to ever purchase a vehicle so equipped. Just seem too complex for a marginal gain in fuel ratings.Give me a tried and true 6 speed.
  • Wjtinfwb The slowest Mustang GT since '82, but an outstanding weekend cruiser if you just want to drop the top and blast some Journey on the beach road. The 2-valve 4.6 is the same engine in thousands of Police Interceptor Crown Vics, it's reliable as the sun, tough as a 50-cent steak and makes a little V8 burble. Much faster Mustangs are available for more money. And by the way the "Theft" light illuminates if the keys in the ignition and door is opened, which is likely why it's illuminated in the picture. IT has zero to do with the odometer.
  • RobbyG My local Ford dealer has had the same 4 Lightnings which I have noticed have not moved from the front lot for quite some time. Meanwhile they sell countless gas F150's every week.
  • Canam23 I was always under the impression the Citroen was the top of the pecking order in French cars followed by Peugeot and the Renault. When I moved here two years ago I discovered that when Peugeot took over Citroen a number of years ago, they positioned themselves as the premium brand, followed by Citroen. They then created an high end Citroen line which is marketed as the DS, a tip of the hat to the sensational Citroen DS of yesteryear. While Citroen still indulges in some unusual body styles, the Peugeots have become really great lookers and are very popular all over Europe. Here's Peugeot's mid size SUV, the 3008.
  • Norman Stansfield Need a way that's energy efficient & good for the environment to capture carbon.Trees?
Next