Another EV Maker Takes Aim at Tesla

Nearly five years ago, Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk said he was “glad to see” competition from traditional automakers in making and selling electric vehicles (EVs). In fact, Musk said he hoped they would “move even faster than they announce.” His hopes may finally be being realized.

The number of EV makers now includes not only traditional automakers like Ford, GM and Volkswagen, but dozens of international companies (most in China) focused only on EVs. The latest to announce its entrance into the fray is a 10-year old firm based in California and with a nearly completed assembly plant in Arizona.

Lucid Motors on Tuesday announced that its first vehicle, the all-electric Lucid Air luxury sedan, has a verified range of 517 miles on a single charge, making it the longest range EV to date. The production model of the sedan is going to be revealed on September 9, along with detailed specifications, configurations and pricing. Customer deliveries from the Arizona plant are planned to begin in early 2021.

The Lucid Air’s 517-mile range is more than 100 miles greater than the 402-mile range of Tesla’s Model S Long Range Plus, which carries a list price of $74,990 and offers potential savings of $5,500, according to Tesla.

China-based EV maker Nio Inc. (NYSE: NIO) reported a second-quarter loss Tuesday morning that was narrower than expected after overcoming delivery delays caused by the coronavirus outbreak in China early this year. The ES8, which carries a list price of $66,000 and has an EPA-rated range of 185 miles on a single charge, is the only model Nio sells in the United States.

Lucid Motors was founded in 2009 and has received $1.1 billion in venture funding in four funding rounds, according to data from Crunchbase. The latest round came in September 2018, when the Saudi Public Investment Fund injected $1 billion into the firm.

A recent spate of high-visibility initial public offerings has come from companies that make heavy trucks and delivery vans. If not exactly a weak spot for Tesla, at least truck and van makers are starting off closer to even. Tesla could sell as many as 500,000 EVs this year.

We noted on Monday a report from analysts at Morgan Stanley forecasting that by 2040, Tesla will be selling nearly 5 million vehicles a year, less than half the 11.2 million the firm thinks that VW will be selling. Global sales of EVs are expected to reach nearly three-quarters of all new car sales in the same period.

Elon Musk is much more aggressive, saying that he expects Tesla deliveries to increase by 40% to 50% annually through 2030. That means current annual production would grow to 15 million by 2030.

Has Lucid Air, with its 500+-mile battery range, eliminated what may have been Tesla’s main differentiator with other EV makers? A Nio E8 has a range of around 235 miles, and no automaker except Tesla (and now Lucid) has broken the 300-mile range barrier.

In the end, it may all come down to price. Tesla and Lucid have each developed their own energy efficiency technologies. As Lucid’s CEO and chief technical officer Peter Rawlinson put it, “[E]xceptional efficiency, achieved through in-house technology, is undeniably a measure of a true EV tech company.”

For an EV maker, higher efficiency means greater profit margins. For traditional automakers making the transition from internal combustion engines to electric power, competing on price almost certainly will mean lower margins.