(CNN)The Lucid Air Dream Edition was recently rated by the Environmental Protection Agency with an estimated driving range of 520 miles on a full charge. That’s the longest range of any purely battery-powered car yet rated by the EPA, including Tesla’s Model S Long Range.
It’s not just a little longer, either. The Air goes an estimated 115 miles farther on a charge than the Tesla. It’s even farther than most gasoline cars can travel on a full tank.
But Lucid’s chief executive Peter Rawlinson, who once worked at Tesla and helped engineer the original Model S, thinks that jaw-dropping number, 520 miles, isn’t actually terribly important. For one thing, that range doesn’t come cheap. Prices for the Lucid Air sedan start at $74,000, but prices for the Dream Edition are more than double that, starting at $169,000.
Behind that figure, though, is another rarely discussed statistic that Rawlinson thinks will decide the winners and losers in the future world of electric cars: efficiency.
With greater energy efficiency, which contributes to the Lucid Air’s long range, electric cars will become accessible at all price ranges, he said. In fact, one of Rawlinson’s side projects is applying some of the efficiency tricks used at Lucid to something he calls the “T21,” meaning “the Model T for the 21st century.” This would be a car with fairly long driving range that almost anyone can afford.
“The Model T Ford really mobilized mankind in the last century, the 20th century,” Rawlinson said.
“Ultimately, it had a devastating impact upon the planet. We have got this generation of engineers and technologists and designers. It is within our grasp to try to redress the damage that mankind has caused.”
Lucid, a California-based company, recently started production of the Air electric sedan at its Arizona factory.
Some of thesame sorts of techniques used to design expensive cars with very long range can help do that, Rawlinson said, can be applied to cheap cars that will drive shorter distances that remain practical for most people.
Like huge horsepower numbers on performance cars, long range on electric cars will be something people can brag about, but that will have little practical use in real life, Rawlinson said. After all, most electric vehicle owners will charge overnight at home or at work and, when they take long trips, public chargers will be available at intervals of much less than 500 miles.
And the trick to getting longer range figures isn’t particularly hard with current technology, Rawlinson said.When it comes to getting long range, or just useful range, the easiest way to do it is to just pack in more batteries.
“I call that dumb running,” said Rawlinson. “That is not tech.”
The biggest problem with that method is that batteries are expensive and, even as battery prices come down, they still won’t exactly be cheap. Secondly, batteries add a lot of weight, and take up space which means longer range vehicles will tend to be bigger and heavier or have less room inside. The upcoming GMC Hummer EV, for example, tops out at over 9,000 pounds.
Increasing efficiency is a way to break that connection.
“If I could get 20% more efficiency, I can go 20% further for a given amount of energy,” Rawlinson said. “The corollary of that is that, conversely I could go the same distance with 20% less battery.”
For the T21 car project, Rawlinson envisions a battery pack weighing about 275 pounds that would take the compact car about 150 miles. That’s a lot less driving distance per charge than Lucid’s offerings, but it would cost much less, too.
Automakers have been working to increase the efficiency of automobiles for decades regardless of what powers them. Given how important driving range is to consumers, most automakers focus heavily on the energy efficiency of their electric cars. But few have been able to beat the energy efficiency of Rawinson’s old employer, Tesla. Lucid seems to be an exception.
An easy way to compare the efficiency of electric cars is to use the EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov website just as you would to see the efficiency of a gasoline-powered car. The website will show you the MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, of any electric car sold in the US. That’s a measure of how far a vehicle will go on an amount of electricity equivalent to the energy in a gallon of gasoline.
The 520 mile version of the Lucid Air, the Air Dream R, has an MPGe of 125. Surprisingly, it is not the most efficient version of the Lucid Air. The Lucid Air Grand Touring has a range of just 516 miles, but it has an MPGe of 131.
The Tesla Model S Long Range, while very impressive in its efficiency, is still just a bit more energy hungry than the Lucid Air. The Porsche Taycan Turbo, on the other hand, is much less efficient. It has an MPGe of just 73.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the efficiency gap.
Porsche spokesperson Calvin Kim pointed out that, just as with Porsche’s gasoline-powered cars, the emphasis is on overall performance, not maximum efficiency. Also, he said, Taycan owners regularly report longer driving ranges (indicating better efficiency) than official EPA tests show.
The factors that contribute to an electric car’s efficiency include many of the same ones that impact the fuel efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles. Weight and aerodynamics are very important. as are the tires. The Lucid Air has low-rolling-resistance tires specially developed by Pirelli for Lucid.
Lucid also developed its own compact electric motors that, the company claims, are the world’s most energy efficient. Also, the cars use a 900 volt electrical system, which is higher than the already high-powered 800 volt system used in the Porsche Taycan. Higher voltage allows electricity to flow more easily through wires, so a vehicle can use use more power without needing thicker, heavier cables.
Lucid will not make the T21, Rawlison said, because it’s a luxury car brand and the T21 would be anything but a luxury model. Rawlinson is more interested in having other automakers license the tech behind the T21. He doesn’t make it sound terribly appealing, though.
“I doubt my shareholders would want me to do it, because it is a horrible business model,” he said. “You do the T21 project, it is like high volume, low margin.”
Another company might want to use the technology, though, he said. Plenty of automotive manufacturers are in the high-volume, low-margin business, manufacturing a greater quantity of inexpensive cars rather than just a few luxury vehicles. Maybe one that’s fallen behind on the shift towards electric cars could use help to enter the market quickly with advanced technology.
Meanwhile, Lucid has begun working on its own competitors to the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, which Rawlinson calls Platform 2. Those vehicles will cost about $45,000. More cost savings are possible, he said.
“I tell you, we will be able to get to a $20,000 car,” he said.