Lucid takes on Tesla, Mercedes, BMW with Sapphire performance subbrand

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NEWARK, Calif. — Lucid Motors is moving upmarket with the $249,000 Sapphire edition of its Air sedan, leveraging its in-house technology to take on Tesla and legacy rivals such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW at the high end.

Electric vehicle maker Lucid launched last year with the limited-run Air Dream Edition at $169,000, excluding shipping, and quickly sold out. That laid the groundwork for the Sapphire subbrand as a performance-oriented next step.

“We’re certainly taking the brand even further upmarket from a price-point and positioning perspective,” Jeff Curry, vice president of marketing, told Automotive News at company headquarters. “We’re going after those folks who might be in a Mercedes AMG product or BMW M product and want to go electric but need a place to go. This is our representation of the pinnacle of electric performance.”

The Air Sapphire launches next year.

Lucid, with just one model so far, says it’s still on track to deliver the $87,400 Air Pure trim by the end of the year, bringing the sedan out at under six figures.

But in the meantime, the automaker raised prices for all versions this year, created a Gran Touring Performance trim at $179,000, added a $6,000 Stealth appearance package, and even hiked shipping charges to $1,650 from $1,500.

Amid low output from its Arizona factory and growing financial losses, Lucid has been focused on building the most expensive Air versions as part of a broader plan to fuel its expansion, analysts said.

“It’s common for automakers, whether legacy or startup, to roll out an attention-grabbing, range-topping EV first to help recover all those years of R&D costs and steer themselves out of the red,” said Robby DeGraff, industry analyst at AutoPacific.

“Hopefully, the Air Sapphire will help Lucid generate the funds needed to finally begin production of more mainstream trims, like the sub-$90,000 Pure that we’re still waiting on,” DeGraff said.

Lucid reported in August that it has more than 37,000 reservations for the Air sedan across all trims. It expects to build between 6,000 and 7,000 this year, with the vast majority coming in the second half.

Lucid’s bigger plans, according to CEO Peter Rawlinson, include launching the Gravity SUV in 2024 and developing a smaller platform for mainstream luxury vehicles later in the decade.

While Mercedes, BMW and other rivals have started rolling out a variety of EV models, Lucid executives highlight their homegrown technology and industry accolades as signs of a bright future.

The Air holds the record for EV range at 520 miles, according to the EPA, and is the most efficient sedan in its class. And the Air’s 900-volt architecture makes it the quickest-charging EV that Car and Driver has tested.

The Air Sapphire takes those achievements to the next level for a performance car.

Lucid said the model will still have more than 400 miles of range — even with a three-motor layout that generates 1,200 hp. That makes it the most powerful sedan in the world, regardless of fuel type, according to the automaker.

Acceleration to 60 mph is estimated at under 2 seconds, similar to what Tesla estimates for its Model S Plaid, which has three motors, 1,020 hp and starts at $137,440 with shipping, according to Tesla’s website.

Both the Plaid and Sapphire represent extreme versions of already crazy-fast EV sedans.

“When we set out to do the Lucid Air, it was clear that luxury had to be paramount and that we really wanted to position the brand in a luxury place,” said Derek Jenkins, senior vice president of brand and design, during a walk-around of the Sapphire.

“That said, performance has always been a priority. The Air, especially in its top forms, is an incredible performance vehicle. But as performance enthusiasts, we felt there was another level” with the Sapphire, Jenkins said.

In fact, the Air was designed from the ground up to have room for two motors at the rear for a performance version. Those motors allow for a top speed of over 200 mph and torque vectoring to improve balance during hard cornering.

The Sapphire gets bigger tires, unique wheels, carbon-fiber brakes and an upgraded suspension for screaming around the racetrack, said Erich Bach, senior vice president of product and chief engineer at Lucid Group.

“We didn’t just put a third motor in the car [and say] it’s a Sapphire,” Bach said. “We looked at the vehicle holistically.”

At Monterey Car Week this month, the Air Sapphire received the kind of publicity that also makes it a marketing tool for the manufacturer.

“It does make sense, especially if they want to steal away the buzz from Tesla’s Model S Plaid,” said DeGraff. “But the underlying logic of a halo product north of the $200,000 price point with seriously absurd performance numbers is likely to keep cash flowing.”