16 Nov 23

The Battery Series: Lucid Motors has a unique battery tech and a new strategy

Luxury electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Lucid Motors is renowned for its technical know-how in powertrains, including its unique battery packs and charging units called wunderboxes. Yet, struggling to reach high sales volumes in the US and Europe, Lucid now aims to produce a Tesla Model Y rival to shift the balances in the passenger EV market. 

Lucid Motors was founded as ‘Atieva’ in 2007, a California-based EV battery and powertrain manufacturer for other OEMs. With over 50 patents in its arsenal, Atieva became highly successful in the EV battery business and eventually embraced the idea of developing its EV. 

In 2014, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding (BAIC) and China-based internet company LeEco funded Lucid with $100 million to support the EV project. Tesla Model S, which was launched in 2012, achieved high success, followed by Model X a year later. Lucid was ambitious to make a significant start and, combining experience and vision, built a 900 HP powertrain prototype, reaching 100 km/h in less than 3 seconds and having a remarkable range bonus.  

After rebranding itself as Lucid Motors in 2016, former Atieva commenced the construction of its first and largest manufacturing facility, the Advanced Manufacturing Plant (AMP-1) in Casa Grande, Arizona. 

In September 2020, Lucid Motors unveiled its first EV, the Lucid Air sedan, under the Lucid Air lineup, which includes four models. All four models display impressive performance in battery tech and engine power, with Lucid Air Dream Edition reaching 100 km/h at 2.5 seconds, having a range of up to 810 km and a top speed of 270 km/h. 

What is the tech behind the extreme range?

In August 2023, Lucid Motors announced Lucid Air Sapphire, the brand’s top offer, with a $249,000 price tag. Released in September 2023 as the world’s first luxury electric super-sports sedan, Sapphire has a three-motor powertrain developed and manufactured by Lucid Motors, giving the car 1,234 hp with a top speed of 330 km. Sapphire reaches 100 km/h at 1.89 seconds and can travel 687 km (427 miles) with a single charge. Equipped with an ultra-fast 900V+ charging system, Air Sapphire’s DC charging time (max 200 Kw power) is 24 min. 

To have an idea of the Lucid Motors battery technology, Munro & Associates disassembled the battery pack of Lucid Air Grand Touring, which has 22 modules, compared to Air Touring’s and Air Pure’s 18 (module count depends on the model and the trim size). The 18-module battery pack provides 92 kwH, and the 22-module (the one Grand Touring has) has 122 kWh capacity. Conversely, Sapphire combines 22 modules with a different battery cell chemistry and an 188 kWh capacity. The disassembly revealed a truly distinct battery pack design offering top performance, also diligently applied tech for providing heat resistance (according to the information provided on the Munro Live YouTube channel): 

The base level has 19, and the second level has three modules
Each battery module contains 300 cells; hence, 22 module batteries have 6,600 cells
The modules are placed on a glass-fibre composite base, providing heat and corrosion resistance
Modules are injection moulded plastic cases containing ten groups of 30 cells separated by mica sheets
An aluminium cooling plate is placed on top of each module to boost the cooling
The floor has aluminium castings at the front, rear and sides, also at the centre, splitting the battery into two parts

Image: Lucid Motors
Aluminium castings and extrusions are mounted through structural adhesives and screws
Busbars, metallic strips or bars carrying current between the modules, are located underneath the modules
Three separate sheet moulding compound (SMC) lids keep the pack intact, covering the top side of the base and protecting the modules
The battery management system (BMS) is integrated into a huge printed circuit board, the biggest the engineers have ever seen (larger than Tesla’s). Lucid Air battery has two BMSs. 

Image: Lucid Motors

Some additional facts: 

  • Lucid used 21700 cylindrical battery cells (21mm in diameter and 70mm in length) 
  • Cylindrical batteries provide the highest energy density to improve the range
  • The closer the cells are to each other, the better chance of increasing the range of an EV
  • The design aims to maximise the space available in the car
  • The painstaking disassembly process raises questions about the serviceability of the pack
  • The tech and design are ingenious, according to the engineers. 

The Lucid Motors plant in Saudi Arabia. The Advanced Manufacturing Plant-2 (AMP-2). Image: Lucid Motors.

Extending skills and capacity with Panasonic

The Lucid Group announced a partnership with Panasonic in December 2022 to power Lucid Air and the upcoming Gravity SUV. The round cells in 2170 format will be supplied to Lucid from two plants, one in Japan and one in the US, from mid-2025. The capacity for the first year is expected to be 30 GwH, while the chemistry is under the shades. 

Panasonic started working on two types of cylindrical batteries, the 1865 (18mm x 65mm) and 2170 (21mm x 70mm), in 2021. Like other battery manufacturers, Panasonic focused on the cathode and anode’s chemical composition to store more energy while increasing energy density in less space. Panasonic also reduced the amount of cobalt needed in its nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) batteries compared to the nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) chemical composition. Through technological advancements and applying alternative materials, Panasonic reduced the cobalt to less than 5% in Li-ion batteries. To this end, using recycled batteries, Redwood Materials, and manufacturing critical battery components to feed the lithium-ion supply chain helps Panasonic through a strategic partnership. 

Panasonic is developing a new and larger cylindrical battery to boost energy capacity, providing higher performance at a lower cost. Eventually, Lucid Air is keen to keep the longest-range EV as long as possible. 

While Lucid Motors has seemed to struggle for battery supply from LG Chem for its luxurious Air sedan, the company will diversify its supply base by turning to Panasonic Energy for lithium-ion cells for the Air and the upcoming 2024 Gravity SUV.

Panasonic will fulfil that demand for cells initially from its Japanese plant and eventually with cells from a recently announced plant in De Soto, Kansas. The Kansas plant will produce 30 gigawatt-hours of 2170 lithium-ion cells annually, with mass production by March 2025. “As the global shift to EVs accelerates, we are looking into ways to strengthen our battery production capacity in North America and meet the growing demand from our automotive partners,” Tadanobu added.

New challenge: Increasing the sales

Selling luxury EVs and balancing the lineup with more affordable all-electric cars appeared to be the strategy of Lucid Motors, but it hasn’t gone well since the release of the first model in 2021. In 2022, even though exceeding the number set for that year, Lucid Motors delivered only 7,180 vehicles, far below the financial strength to move to mass production and take rivals like Tesla and other niche competitors like Rivian head-on. 

Having received $1 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in 2018, under the Vision 2030 plan to distance Saudi Arabia from fossil fuels, Lucid Motors raised $4,4 billion in SPAC IPO in 2021. Yet, the financing didn’t help much to cut losses, as Lucid Motors decided to reduce production goals for 2023 following the increased losses in Q3. The company had 1,404 and 1,456 vehicles in Q2 and Q3, respectively and is expected to end the year with a total sales between 8,000-8,500, far below the initial prediction of around 14,000. 

Nevertheless, having beaten the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport and Tesla Model S Plaid in speed tests, Lucid is luxurious and unique in its tech and has never fallen short of drawing partners to its side. In June 2023, Aston Martin announced its plan to produce EVs starting from 2025 with the help of Lucid Motors. Additionally, Mercedes and Chinese Geely (which own Volvo, Polestar, Lynk & Co and Lotus) plan to work with Lucid to produce future high-performance EVs. 

Lucid is expanding globally, too; it opened its first international manufacturing facility in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in September 2023, with an initial annual production capacity of 5,000, which is to be expanded to 150,000. In June 2023, Lucid also confirmed the plans to enter the world’s largest EV market, China. Lucid Motors plans to open a plant in China and the Middle East in 2025.

The global expansion plan seems to be a part of the new strategy CEO Peter Rawlinson told ABC News in September 2023: Taking on the world’s top-selling car, Tesla Model Y, by producing an all-electric car priced around $50,000. And with the ambitious global expansion plan, Lucid wants to target the general consumer and the premium buyers on several continents. 

Lucid is well prepared for charging issues, too. Lucid’s Wunderbox charger is compatible with almost all public charging stations. To make the Lucid models more tempting, the brand announced the RangeXchange technology in November 2023, enabling any Lucid model to charge any other EV. 

The reveal of Lucid Gravity on 16 November 2023 again displayed Lucid’s strong position among the luxury EV makers and highlighted the long-term ambition of beating its rivals. The first stage in North America faced obstacles, but the second stage in the global arena may turn Lucid into a fierce competitor of Tesla and other major EV makers. 

Check earlier articles in this series:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
The Battery Series: Mercedes-Benz's global battery network is ready
The Battery Series: Renault to unleash future EV mobility with the R5
The Battery Series: Volvo's strategy combines performance and safety
The Battery Series: Li Auto wants to topple German giants with 'Qilin'

The main image shows Lucid Air Sapphire, courtesy of Lucid Motors.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen