Who the hell is going to buy a Lucid?
Christmas shopping went off without a hitch. Searching for freebies just cool enough to hide the lingering smell of procrastination, I found myself in the kind of upscale outdoor mall that requires you to walk from Lululemon to Coach.
This open-air retail concept is catching on everywhere. But it must have sprung from a sun-bleached climate far from Seattle, where we’ve just suffered the wettest fall in recorded history. A local developer decided that Rodeo Drive’s exterior storefronts epitomized luxury and didn’t think much else. The problem now is Seattle’s elite get their feet soggy when the doors open at Cartier.
But I noticed something else at the mall: a new tangle of plywood and chain links that will someday become a Lucid Motors showroom. The space sits next to one of Apple’s Zen monuments to advanced capitalism, a brutalist glass and brushed steel shoebox. There is a Peloton showroom nearby, its austere glazed storefront allowing views of the stylish identical bikes. Lucid’s new space is stuck in there, where it has remained unfinished for months.
It made me think. When this showroom is complete, when its glass front allows the Peloton customer to view sparkling demo units and interchangeable chatty salespeople, I wonder: who the hell is going to buy a Lucid?
Welcome to Kinardi Line, spokesperson for the free world’s most hated automotive writer. Home of questionable takes, criticism and cult of the shitbox.
It might be a stupid question. Our own Lawrence Ulrich praised the opening salvo from Lucid, a soaring sedan called the Air. On paper, the Lucid takes on many of our electric car bugaboos. With a range of over 500 miles in its top configuration, the Air takes the anxiety out of most Americans. When recharging, Lucid says the Premium Air can add up to 300 miles of range in as little as 20 minutes. It’s amazing.
It goes like hell too, muscular with up to 1,111 horsepower (!!!), smashing a quarter mile in under ten seconds. And you can bet that a good chunk of that three-ton curb weight is dedicated to isolating passengers from road noise, meaning the Air should roll on a magic carpet of loneliness. On a lucid checklist of electric car must-haves, the new Lucid Air apparently ticks all the boxes.
There is only one problem, Lucid is entering the electric car market from the highest level. They are entering the market with exactly no name recognition, targeting a segment that requires money for the S-Class while providing no brand cache from Mercedes.
Lucid himself does not see this as an obstacle. In a series of videos and interviews, Lucid’s own designers and employees brought up the idea of “post-luxury”. They insist that wealthy consumers no longer seek old-fashioned opulence in their expensive vehicles. On the contrary, they say, the modern luxury buyer considers issues of environmental impact and sustainability first and foremost and wants everyone to be wrapped in some sort of Steve-Jobs turtleneck minimalism.
It’s an interesting idea: that the wealthy have turned the corner from self-gratification, rejecting gorgeous chrome-tanned leather and carbon-spitting V-8s for the conscious restraint of synthetic wool seats. Maybe a deep-rooted notion of privilege and selflessness reduced their desire for a peacock in a Bentley?
To me that sounds absurd. “Post-luxury” is simply a new image of something we are all familiar with: The Incredible Company of the Joneses may look different over time, but it’s a fundamental part of our culture. Back in the ’60s, driving a Cadillac meant you were somebody. Now these people are called Tech Bros, and they want expensive electrical devices.
Need proof? Watch any Tech Bro sneak up to a bar, their Amazon work badge still strapped to the outside of their jacket, hours after the end of their day. What are they going into?
It’s a Tesla, Lucid’s biggest competitor in the luxury electric space. While Lucid will tell you that they are not in competition with Tesla, it’s hard to imagine an auto maker they need to attract more customers. Tesla is not a tech company, despite popular opinion to the contrary. It is a luxury lifestyle brand; No one talks about their Macbook with the same reverence Tesla buyers reserve for the Model S.
But what, exactly, are Tesla buyers so attached to? They see themselves as early adopters, smart consumers, climate warriors and techno-futurists. Surely part of that pride is rooted in the belief that a Tesla is a better mousetrap, and for many buyers it is. It all speaks to this idea of “post-luxury” as avant-garde altruism.
More than just saving the turtles, Tesla owners are spreading these perceived values to others. Social conscience is indeed both a virtue and a commodity in 2021. And for most of the past decade, a certain segment of our population has decided that the best way to signal all good virtues is to park a Tesla. in front of their energy. efficient Silicon Valley condo. That way, the “post-luxury” idea is identical to any stuffy luxury brand that Lucid aims to bring down, even though it looks and feels a lot different.
Post-luxury represents a change in contemporary taste, not a fundamental change in values. And the taste has always changed with the wind.
So back to Lucid, and the essential question: if a Tesla is already sending the right signal to your neighbors, accelerating faster than any ICE car, and doing both at a lower price and with a more recognizable name than the Lucid, how is Lucid going to draw customers?
Well, given Tesla’s uneven history of construction and reliability issues from brick screens to rain-filled taillights hampered by an uneven grid for maintenance, I’m not sure their customers will look to Lucid for reliability. Many Tesla owners I’ve spoken to have struggled to fix their problems, while proclaiming complete loyalty; further proof that Tesla is indeed a lifestyle brand.
Maybe Lucid’s style separates the wheat from the chaff. The Lucid Air bases its vision of “post-luxury” on the design, look and feel of the car in relation to the automotive market as a whole. It’s a good proposition, but we first announced news from the Air over five years ago, in 2016. If you take a look at the renderings of the prototype, they look almost identical to the road cars leaving the Lucid factory as you read this.
We will always applaud an automaker for coming so close to its designer’s vision. How many times has an automaker blew up the doors of the convention with their concept, only to finally build a dummy of wet rag? But the design of the Lucid Air is no longer particularly fresh.
Perhaps this is because mainstream automakers have been quicker to pull similar ideas from our post-luxury future with similar ideas. Consider the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, which borrows more than a little from the design of Lucid Air (check out those wheels), but with a more angular grip. It even has a better roofline, stripped of the Lucid’s awkward rump. When you see one on the road, it broadcasts The Future much better than any current Tesla. Then there’s the Giugiaro-esque Kia EV6, another pure electric that borrows design cues from the same playbook.
This brings me to a more specific question: What consumer will pay for an S-Class for a car that looks like what Hyundai could have designed? When your vision of futurism is new, you can sell it for a higher price. But in that stretch between the debut and production of the Air, imitators have closed the gap. Now there they are, knocking on Lucid’s front door. Even the reigning luxobarge champion showed up. Soon we’ll have an electric S-Class, rolling with rounded edges and a blunt upturned nose and long glass roof and austere interior ripped straight from Gattaca. Seems familiar?
This does not mean that Lucid is doomed. Not at all. The company has been funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund to the tune of billions. Lucid’s public rating is astronomical, and there’s finally a product coming out the front door of the factory. There’s even a Lucid SUV on the horizon.
Still, I wonder. Who are these folks spending $ 170,000 on a badass electric rocket that no longer looks or feels particularly futuristic, avoiding Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Bentley, and yes, even Tesla, for a brand with no recognition? name ? And who will continue to buy Lucid when the aforementioned automakers all have their skin in the game and are able to build their cars in far greater numbers?
Perhaps the answer has always been written on the faceless glass facades of these luxury outdoor shopping malls. Buyers here aspire to this “post-luxury” design. Their coffee tables, refrigerators, and cars should be as stylish and genderless as a skipping stone. There is probably enough wealth to push Lucid forward on the considerable merits of its vehicle performance, even as the market thickens around the company. I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, I’m just a skeptic.
We’ll find out soon, anyway, every time this Lucid store opens. You’ll see me on the front lines, eager to understand how this post-luxury sedan will appeal to athleisured buyers with Louis Vuitton handbags. Maybe I’m just not meant to have it. That’s probably why I always walk past these buildings with soggy toes and things.
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