Jan 22, 2021 - Economy

Lucid Motors' methodical manufacturing plan

Lucid Motors manufacturing plant in Casa Grande, Ariz. Photo: Lucid

Lucid Motors manufacturing plant in Casa Grande, Ariz. Photo: Lucid

The U.S. auto industry is spreading west, with electric vehicle companies opening factories far from Detroit, in places like California, Arizona and Texas.

Why it matters: With hundreds of millions of dollars in fresh capital, along with newly issued public stock symbols, many are unproven newcomers with ambitions to become the next Tesla.

Among them is Lucid Motors, whose CEO is a Tesla alum wary of the "production hell" his former boss, Elon Musk, famously described while trying to launch Model 3.

  • "Why boast about something you've not done very well?" Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson tells Axios in an interview.
  • "Production hell means you didn't plan very well," adds Lucid's vice president of manufacturing, Peter Hochholdinger, a former Audi manufacturing executive who left Tesla in mid-2019 in the midst of its struggles.

Instead, Rawlinson describes Lucid's manufacturing strategy like a chess game, with lots of moving pieces and one move dependent on the next.

  • The planned factory, on 500 acres in Casa Grande, Arizona, one day will be capable of making 400,000 cars a year.
  • But right now, Lucid has just one electric luxury sedan, the Lucid Air. It plans to produce 7,000 this year, and eventually 34,000 annually.

"We don't want to spend $1 billion on a factory for 400,000 units and have all that capital tied up," says Rawlinson.

  • So Lucid is building its factory in phases, as needed, similar to "just-in-time" supply chains.
  • Its next model, an SUV called Project Gravity, is coming in 2023, with expected production of 85,000-90,000 units, says Rawlinson. By then, phase two of the factory will be complete.
  • By the end of the decade, all four phases will be completed, he says.

The complexity of it all is huge, and not without significant risk, Rawlinson admits.

  • "We have a new plant, a new vehicle platform, a new powertrain, new people and now, tragically, we have a pandemic."
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