In an interview on Friday, Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson shared his thoughts with me about startup electric car companies such as Nikola. He also talked about Tesla’s manufacturing challenges.
Prior to Lucid, Rawlinson was VP of Vehicle Engineering at Tesla and Chief Engineer of the Model S. Lucid also boasts other Tesla alumni. Lucid’s Vice President of Manufacturing Peter Hochholdinger — mentioned below — was VP of Production for Tesla.
Earlier in the week, Lucid announced its lineup of electric luxury sedans slated to hit the market early in 2021.
That lineup includes its fastest car, the $169,000 Air Dream Edition that does 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and has an EPA estimated 503 miles of range. And the $139,000 Grand Touring with an EPA estimated range of 517 miles of range and the $95,000 Air Grand Touring with an EPA estimated range of 406 miles. All due next year. A sub-$80,000 Air will arrive in 2022.
Lucid strengths include very long battery range and in-house developed “ultra-efficient” electric motors and electric drivetrains. The company claims the Air’s drivetrain is 17% more energy efficient than those on Tesla EVs.
Lucid is also touting very-fast charging: adding 300 miles of range in 20 minutes, though that requires being hooked up to a 350kW DC fast charger — still relatively rare in the U.S.
In the coming months, Lucid, founded in 2007, is focused on getting its manufacturing operations up and running in Casa Grande, Arizona.
“In nine months we’ve gone from a piece of earth to a factory…still putting a few finishing touches on it,” Rawlinson told me. “We’re getting the robots up to run. They’re twitching to life as we speak. So, we’re hitting phase one now,” he said, adding that vehicle prototypes are rolling down the pilot line already.
At the top of the interview, I asked him about Nikola — now under a cloud of allegations made by forensic financial analysis firm Hindenburg Research, which, in a 67-page report, alleges that the truck maker is “an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies” and that Nikola’s battery technology is not what it claims. (See notes at bottom about Hindenburg Research and Nikola’s statement and rebuttal.)
When I asked Rawlinson about Nikola, he said he would not address Nikola specifically but his responses speak for themselves.
Rawlinson on “startup wannabes”:
“Because of Tesla’s success, it has now spawned a whole phalanx of startup wannabes. And the media can’t discern between these. And it makes me quite cross really that some of those are going to market with exorbitant valuations and they have nothing. No technology.
“I’ve never seen any evidence of their battery technology. I should know. Part of my repertoire is battery engineering.
“The problem is that some of these other companies, who really have nothing, do a disservice to this movement. I’m motivated because I want mankind to move to a sustainable mobility model urgently. I think we cannot wait because the environment is really suffering.
“I was chief engineer at Tesla. Tesla was the underdog. I was the underdog. I was working my nuts off. And all the hot money was on Fisker. But we [Tesla] were the real deal. I led that team and I hired the team that designed the Model S.
“In fact many saw Fisker [as the leader]. They were flashier. They were glitzier. More show-and-go. They had launches in Monaco and things like that. And I was just in Hawthorne [California] working on the design of the [Model S] car…[but] the media couldn’t differentiate.
Rawlinson on Tesla “production hell”:
“It’s only one car company I know of that experiences production hell.
“Toyota puts a new car into production many times every year, so does BMW, Mercedes Audi, GM…you never hear of production hell. It’s part of the job. I’ve not experienced production hell. Peter Hochholdinger [Lucid’s Vice President of Manufacturing] was 25 years at Audi before he joined Tesla now he’s leading manufacturing here. He knows how to do it and I’m empowering him. So we are planning for production cosmos where some plan for production chaos.
“Now, there is this feeling that process somehow runs against the grain of entrepreneurialism and innovation. And it’s true that when you innovate at an early stage of the company to create a great product it’s often organized chaos.
“The engineering and design process is wholly imperfect and you have to live with that and embrace that to create something extraordinary. But as you get towards production, you need to embrace process and I recognize that and all the car companies that successfully execute industrialization, they embrace process, that’s the difference.”
“It’s not for me to criticize Tesla. But I’m an observer of these things and I can say practically that there’s only one car company that has production hell.
Notes on Hindenberg Research and Nikola’s rebuttal:
*Bloomberg also posted its own analysis of Nikola on Saturday.
Hindenberg has a short position against Nikola’s stock.
Nikola’s Executive Chairman Trevor Milton has denied the claims in a series of tweets. And the company released a statement on Friday saying:
“Yesterday, an activist short-seller whose motivation is to manipulate the market and profit from a manufactured decline in our stock price published a so-called ‘report’ replete with misleading information and salacious accusations directed at our founder and executive chairman. To be clear, this was not a research report and it is not accurate. This was a hit job for short sale profit driven by greed…We have nothing to hide and we will refute these allegations.”
Nikola has also said it will refer the matter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and has hired the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis.
One of the allegations* made by Hindenburg is that Nikola staged a video about its hydrogen fuel cell semi-truck in its “Nikola One in motion” video. Another allegation refutes Nikola’s claims that “it would revolutionize the battery industry” via an acquisition. That deal fell through when “Nikola realized the technology was vaporware,” the Hindenburg report said.
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