Riding inside the Lucid Air luxury EV

Here comes a new challenger to Tesla.

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    Exposed wires and metal beams are typically not what you want to see in a car. But as a Lucid engineer punched the accelerator (only Lucid employees are allowed behind the wheel), the preproduction Air I sat in tore down the road of the Fremont industrial park. The vehicle was only operating at half power.

    Gallery: Lucid Air Hands On | 14 Photos

    That's about where Lucid Motors is at too. It has unveiled its luxury electric vehicle and started taking preorders, but the factory it needs to build those cars doesn't exist yet and it'll be 2018 before production begins on the Air, its debut vehicle. Actually, the company is operating at about 30 percent of power. Maybe 20 percent.

    What it showed off at its event was impressive, though. The Air is a bona fide luxury vehicle, with leather trim and wood accents throughout the interior. The metal exterior gives way to a swooped-back glass roof, creating the feeling of more space to the already roomy passenger cabin.

    I'm six foot, three inches, and finding a car with ample room in the front is difficult. The Air's front and back seats accommodated my long legs and rather large head with no problem. That's not surprising, since the car is aimed squarely at the BMW 7 Series, which also has a spacious interior. What was a surprising addition was the back seat that reclined, similar to the seats in first-class aircraft.

    It's an odd feeling lying in the back of a vehicle, staring up through its glass roof. But I could get used to it. In fact, who could be bothered to ride shotgun when you can nap your way to your destination? But the Air isn't just about going fast and being comfortable (both of which are an integral part of the American dream). There's a lot of technology inside of these cars.

    While I was sitting behind the driver's seat (but not actually driving), three displays filled the dashboard. It's a touchscreen experience except for the climate controls (but those can be moved to the touchscreen as well). If that's not enough, an additional iPad-sized fourth display will emerge from the center dash at the push of a button. The controls on all of these screens are easy to reach and self explanatory. Yes, it's fancy, but it's not overdesigned. That feeling permeates throughout the whole car.

    Everything has its place. Even the touchscreen between the rear seats that controls how far you recline -- while a bit over the top -- makes sense. Clearly the company has taken cues from Tesla to help determine how much whizbang it should add without being ostentatious (even going as far as grabbing former Model S lead engineer Peter Rawlinson and making him CTO).

    That's not all it's borrowing from Tesla. Its strategy for autonomous driving is to ship the car with the sensors, cameras, radar and LIDAR needed for semi-autonomy. But when it goes on sale, only a few of those features will be live. Additional self-driving services will be added via over-the-air updates. If you weren't already aware, the future of car ownership is filled with DLC.

    Back in the preproduction Air, the Lucid engineer was showing us how the car can drive itself down the road, around the corner and into the parking lot. It would have been more impressive if it wasn't a predetermined path. Still, it was good to see a company with actual working prototypes of vehicles it's unveiling. In the back seat, if you ignored the wires, chunks of metal and lack of carpet, it felt like a car. But it'll be a long road from building a few cars to drive journalists down closed streets to spinning up a factory and producing automobiles at scale.

    It'll be a while before the Air is in the hands of drivers and their napping passengers. The factory should start building the cars, which cost more than $100,000 in late 2018. If it can get those cars on the road in a timely fashion, the luxury EV market will be a lot more exciting.

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