“We are not just launching a car, but a brand.” — Derek Jenkins, VP of Design, Lucid Motors
As a longtime marketer, I was excited to be able to spend time with Derek Jenkins, VP of Design at Lucid Motors, a few weeks prior to and just after the reveal event at the Lucid Motors headquarters in Newark, California. In addition to being the lead vehicle designer, Jenkins is also responsible for user experience, brand creative, and brand strategy.
After having the opportunity to spend time with both GM and Cadillac executives in Detroit earlier this year, it was fascinating to compare and contrast the opportunities that lay ahead for Lucid Motors and Cadillac. Executives at GM uniformly shared with me that the opportunity to reinvigorate the 116 year-old Cadillac luxury brand through electrification was a “once in a career opportunity.”
In contrast, Derek shared that building a new brand “is a unique opportunity because if you think of a traditional automotive company, usually, the brand identity is this sacred thing that’s been in place for a long time. That’s what’s so amazing about being able to work on a project like this, because our focus is so singular and so laser pointed at that, the change, the shift, the movement in taking and eliminating every ounce of doubt or concern in our target buyer.”
Jenkins shared that “In our case, we had this clean sheet. So, I was tasked with, OK, first you’re going to come up with a design direction. Well, OK, what’s that going to be based upon? Well, there’s no heritage. There’s no foundation, there’s no origin story. There’s no brand DNA, you know, so we have to very quickly understand what are we going for? Who are we going after? What is our origin story? What are our primary pillars that we want to focus on?”
“And then there’s been a lot of change in the last five, six, seven, eight years with electrification coming online, a little bit of disruption starting to happen. And so that sort of crystallized what we thought was this new, more progressive consumer looking for technology and efficiency and the performance that comes with electrification as a new form of aspiration or, if you will, a new form of prestige, where in the past, in my past experience working with the luxury makers, it was more about touting your history,” Jenkins adds.
Jenkins talked about the concept of “post luxury” — which is defined not by price and opulence, but products that deliver freedom, space, personalization, and possibility. Jenkins added that sustainability is now also a key attribute of this idea of post luxury. Consumers, whose personal images are associated with the brands they purchase, increasingly want to buy from companies that have a higher mission, and sustainability is increasingly at the core.
“I’ve always tried to look at the Lucid Air and Lucid as a brand as more of a psychographic and less about a demographic. You know, obviously price point dictates a certain affluence and the consumers will have to make it possible. But I think first and foremost, I’m thinking that this person has an aspiration towards technology. They care about performance, sustainability and a great experience,” explained Jenkins.
“And so that crystallized what we thought was this new, more progressive consumer looking for technology, efficiency, and the performance that comes with electrification as a new form of aspiration or, if you will, a new form of prestige. Where in the past, in my past experience working with a luxury automaker, it was more about touting your history,” Jenkins adds.
Jenkins’ perspective on the legacy automakers comes from personal experience, as he was the Director of Design at Mazda North America Operations, where he oversaw all design developments locally and globally and was the lead or contributing designer to the 2016 MX-5 Miata, Shinari Concept, CX-5, Mazda6, Mazda3, and 2017 CX-9. He also spent 9 years as the Chief Designer for Volkswagen North America, credited with the Scirocco and Microbus concept, and eight years with Audi, serving first as Lead Exterior Designer, followed by Assistant Chief Designer for Audi Design, where he was the principal exterior designer of the 2002 Audi A8.
In my conversations with both Jenkins and CEO & CTO Peter Rawlinson, they’ve both mentioned that the Air was designed to compete first and foremost with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. I mentioned that my perception was that S-Class buyers were likely an older demographic, but Jenkins said that many of these customers will see the inherent benefit over their internal combustion sedan, and will make this change because Air has all of these advantages over their current car.
Quality of course remains a key component of what defines luxury, and Jenkins emphasized that Lucid would have a huge focus on build quality and would not scale production volume until they were satisfied with the quality of the Air models being produced in Casa Grande. While he said the company was targeting production of 10,000 to 15,000 units in 2021, the company will ramp up slowly to ensure the highest quality. Jenkins never said it, but the clear implications are that there will not be any Lucid Airs leaving the factory with unacceptable panel gaps.
One key in building a brand is deciding on the category (or categories) you are going to compete in, and Jenkins told me that Lucid views the company as being a “mobility and energy” company. Using the term “mobility” gives the company a wide swath to pursue, but when I posed if e-scooters and e-bikes, for example, might be in Lucid’s future, he didn’t see the company going in that direction.
As we sipped on celebratory champagne after the launch event, I noticed that Jenkins was wearing an Apple watch, which had me wondering if Lucid would license its brand on a variety of products in the future as Porsche, Ferrari, and Harley-Davidson have done. Jenkins didn’t foresee Lucid getting into the brand licensing business anytime soon, and stressed that they were focused on “taking away compromise.”
“You know, we want to eliminate any obstacle in their mind that this is the way to go, because ultimately the big holistic mission is to get more people fascinated with EVs in the transition, not just our buyers, but make it aspirational for everybody to get into an EV whether it’s ours or somebody else’s, at a lower price point. That, you know, that’s part of the appeal of trying to stay on the cutting edge for for us.” — Derek Jenkins, VP of Design, Lucid Motors
In other words, Lucid is focused on building a great brand that is founded on delivering an amazing customer experience that eliminates any and all compromise across the entire customer journey. This starts with an integrated online and offline buying process. Prospective buyers will be able to configure and customize their Air model online and then visit a Lucid Design Studio where they can use the Lucid Virtual Reality Experience to gain an accurate sense of what their model configuration will look like.
While some may argue that the Lucid Design Studios are similar to and perhaps influenced by Tesla’s Showrooms, Jenkins argues that the new luxury buyer is simply not happy with the traditional dealer and auto buying experience and that, as a high-end luxury brand, is critical to create a “no compromise” buying experience.
“We’re approaching this with the notion that auto sales and service is in a transition period. On one extreme, you have things like Carvana and touch less delivery and it’s super successful. And we see a customer that wants that, they want to be able to go online and go I like that, and arrange financing,” Jenkins added.
Jenkins sees their buyers wanting the best of both worlds. “Other folks want more personal interaction, so we’re building platforms to support both directions. We’re building a digital consumer journey that has this incredible online experience where you get this immersive VR experience configuration experience and you can learn all about the car in the virtual sense.”
“I think there is a consumer set out there that still wants the personal touch. Yet they still want to be able to talk to somebody. And, you know, our people are our employees,” Jenkins continued.
Exterior and Interior Design — Rethinking the Luxury Sedan
To my eye the Lucid Air looks like a very large sedan, and judging by the teaser shots of the SUV, it appears to be a monster. But Jenkins says that both vehicles are are under five meters in length, and in the case of the Air, it’s significantly under five meters, which he feels is kind of a barrier for size. At under five meters in length, Jenkins says it puts both vehicles in the midsize category.
“The idea for both vehicles is to class up in interior space and class up in cargo volume, and in some cases go beyond the class above wherever possible. And I just think that’s a really logical formula, because generally I think people do like a sporty, more agile, maneuverable and parkable vehicle. But who doesn’t want boatloads of space, comfort, and cargo room?,” Jenkins exclaims.
“We talk a lot about the transition to the crossover and how the sedan as a format is dying, but in our opinion it’s dying because it hasn’t evolved. It (the ICE sedan) doesn’t offer anything new that it didn’t offer in the 1990s or 1980s, for that matter. Relatively speaking, obviously, performance and safety all improved, but the format of interior space, cargo room, the usability, the format hasn’t changed while the crossover was born,” Jenkins stressed.
Jenkins continues, “That’s where we feel like the Lucid Air is the logical evolution of where the sedan format needs to go. It’s sleeker, it’s more efficient, it’s more spacious, it’s got more flexible cargo space. Everything is improved significantly and eliminates compromises that people have in recent times associated with sedans.”
While touting the company’s Air as reinventing the sedan concept, Jenkins said that they will also try and involve all of the key parameters as they look at their crossover SUV. “But there’s going to be a gap there just because the format (sedan) has inherent advantages.”
User Interface & Voice Activation
Jenkins and the team at Lucid have put a lot of energy into the user interface and user experience to make sure that it’s intuitive, that key functionality is easy to use. “Even the more mundane things about operating a vehicle are familiar, and aren’t completely buried in layers and layers of menus. And if I want to change my fan speed, well, there’s a lever with the fan symbol on it,” Jenkins stressed.
Jenkins believes strongly in natural voice in the car and the company has partnered with Amazon and is using the Alexa platform. You’ll eventually be able to do virtually everything via voice, including navigation, infotainment, music settings, climate control, home activation such as garage door controls, and more.
Jenkins said that most people are used to a certain seamlessness through their daily interaction with devices, and then broadly speaking, that seamlessness once you enter into the automobile is broken. “We’re trying to to alleviate that, smooth that out.”
“For me, the big thing is just like I’m in traffic, one minute I’m listening to talk radio, the next minute I want to listen to Led Zeppelin, you know, and I don’t want to touch anything and I don’t want my hands off the wheel. Or I want to check my calendar or add an appointment. It’s the simple things that make the difference for the driving experience,” Jenkins emphasized.
Fast Charging Experience
The one area of customer experience that Lucid will not only control is of course DC fast charging, as the company has partnered with Electrify America. Jenkins and Eric Bach, VP of Engineering, both shared with me that while, as a new charging network, the company was certainly experiencing some growing pains, it was also the fastest growing fast-charging network.
Bach told me that Lucid has a strong relationship with Electrify America and they are committed to having their equipment able to charge at the fastest rates possible to support Lucid. He also shared that their partnership enables Lucid to provide input to Electrify America on their target market and where to put future fast charging locations.
While Lucid won’t own the charging experience for its customers, it clearly doesn’t make sense at this stage of the EV market to do anything other than partner with one of the leading fast charging networks. And when you think about it, with 350–500+ miles of range across all variations of the Air, owners aren’t likely to need to access to fast charging very often.
As Rawlinson has shared multiple times, the company hasn’t accomplished anything yet until it actually produces and delivers the Air. And as true as that is, he has assembled a great team that is on the path to not just building a great car, but also a great brand.
In a future article, I’ll share highlights from my conversations with Rawlinson and Bach.