Designing the Lucid Air, Part Two

The Team and the Process

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Creating a groundbreaking vehicle from a clean sheet is an opportunity to radically rethink the design process. In an earlier blog post, Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s Vice President of Design, discussed the inspiration for the Lucid Air. In this post, he goes in-depth on the unique team and process that brought the Air to life.

Your design team worked very closely with the Lucid engineering team when creating the Air. What was that like?

Collaboration is a huge piece of what Lucid is all about. If you think in terms of the traditional automotive environment, the designers are over here, and the engineers are over there, and you do your work, and we do our work, and then we come together in some forum and hammer it out. In that environment, it can be difficult to solve problems that involve both disciplines.

I find that designers and engineers are actually good at working together to solve such challenges, but only if they understand each other. Engineers need to understand the importance of a certain design decision, and designers need to understand the tradeoffs of different engineering options. That takes collaboration.

So if you can create a process where both teams are on the same page, and they are working to solve problems towards a common goal, that’s the dream; that is truly design. It’s the difference between just styling the car to look like something and actually designing a car. It is form and function working together, and both Peter (Rawlinson, Lucid’s Chief Technology Officer) and I believe this is the right way to work.

Can you give an example?

Once we had the concept of Lucid Air established, we refined the architecture of the car. The architecture is the skeleton of the vehicle, all the basic dimensions like wheelbase and height. It really came down to Peter’s vision for the layout of the vehicle. With that established, we began to think about how to contour the body, or skin, over the architecture, and this posed a unique challenge.

A traditional luxury car’s architecture has a really long hood with a big motor in it and a shorter cabin pushed farther back to give you that long, elegant, traditional look. Our car is the opposite: There’s no long motor in the front, so the hood is very short, and the cabin is quite long, because the focus is on the occupants. The challenge was, “Could we make this car look elegant and luxurious enough to really inspire our customer?”

We worked together with engineering to get the optimal windscreen touchdown, the optimal overhangs, and the optimal vehicle height. We were able to get a unique balance of all of those items to create a silhouette that is progressive for a luxury car but still has that initial impact of, “This is a luxury vehicle of a certain level.” It still manages to communicate luxury despite breaking a lot of those traditional luxury rules. It was a thrilling process to go through but also challenging.

What type of design team does it take to excel in such a unique environment?

We’re a small team. You can achieve a lot with just a handful of people, but those people have to be able to do a lot of different things. So I brought together a really talented team of individuals with a broad range of experience at different car companies. There was a kind of synergy early on, and I think it all comes down to a passion for a certain approach towards design and in celebrating something new.

That spirit was established and aligned early on when we didn’t really know who we were yet. We explored at the beginning, but with no prior design language or brand DNA, at a certain point, you have to put up some boundaries and start to funnel it. As the director, I manage that, but it’s also the team working together collectively, saying, “No, that doesn’t feel right; we should go further this way,” and “No, that’s too far.”

Over time, the guidelines become clearer, and I feel like, as a team, we established a process that we could quickly and easily evolve for future Lucid models.

Once the architecture was established, how did you narrow down the design variations?

Early on, we explored variations for Lucid Air: some more sporty, some more traditional luxury, some more avant-garde. We came up with a few different proposals that had different characters, but all of them could have been considered Lucid. Then we made some digital models and then eventually some scale models of those and started to test those against each other.

As those matured, it led to two directions. We brought them up to a full-size model. We had one full-size clay model — we didn’t have the time to do more — and we took that one model, and we did two variations, on the passenger side and the driver side, and those evolved in parallel for a couple of months. They were subtle theme variations of the same car, and we eventually chose one.

How did the design evolve from that point?

There was a lot of iteration. The car was a lot more complex looking than it is today, and we went through this process of subtracting, even in the full-sized model. We started removing lines and fussy details. We distilled the design until we got to something that was clean, clear, and easy for people to understand.

After that stage, it was a matter of refining the design. We refined the body sides, focused on all of the trim details like the headlights, tail spoiler, number-plate placement, and all the trim that runs through the lower bumpers and the doors.

In mid-2016, we did our first design freeze to make an internal static hard model which we called the interior-exterior model (IEM). The IEM is a snapshot of data that was made into a hard model and finished to a high level, so it looks like a real car, but it’s a static model.

What was it like to see the car in the outside and in the light for the first time?

It was amazing. Each stage of the project is another level of realization for the design, and that’s really exciting. But when you see it in kind of a finished state, with the glass canopy, and you can see through the car, that’s a big moment. You see the design really coming to life.

But that wasn’t the end. Even after the IEM was finished, we kept developing the clay model to bring it closer to feasibility. It was from that evolved design that we created the actual running Alpha engineering car that was beautified and then shown in December 2016.

For you, what is one detail that really stands out?

The car is quite simple in its overall shape and form language, but I would say the most recognizable feature on the car is the roof canopy.

We call it the “floating cabin.” It has a thin, tensioned all-aluminum pillar floating on top of the body but not integrated with it. It’s different than any traditional sedan on the road today, and it highlights this long, sleek cabin, which is much of what the car is intended to be about.

When you look at it next to a normal vehicle like a Mercedes or an Audi, it’s a really strong standout feature that allows us to have a dramatically different look to other cars in the marketplace, and it will be a signature design element of future Lucid vehicles.

What can you say about these future Lucid vehicles?

We are working on a number of ideas, and the Lucid DNA is definitely coming into focus.

The Air was envisioned as a car that can satisfy the needs of today’s luxury consumer but also have a foot firmly in the shared-mobility space. It’s why we focused so much on maximizing space, minimizing the footprint, and developing batteries that could stand up to the rigors of constant operation and repeated fast-charging.

Some of the future products we are working on continue on this same theme, while others are decidedly focused on the increasing on-demand mobility market. In both cases, the attributes that you experience in the Air that make it a Lucid will clearly shine through.

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