Lucid (Formerly Known as Atieva) Will Be the Sole Battery-Pack Supplier for Formula E

Lucid tease for production electric carLucid’s Tesla Model S rival, expected to go on sale in late 2018, doesn’t even have an official name yet. But the company, which until yesterday was known as Atieva, is emerging from a self-imposed stealth mode and aims to find name recognition quickly among electric-vehicle enthusiasts and motorsports fans with this bit of news: Lucid will soon be the sole supplier of battery packs for FIA Formula E racing.

Peter Rawlinson, Lucid’s chief technical officer (and the former chief engineer of the Tesla Model S), has confirmed to C/D that the agreement will be part of a three-way partnership among McLaren Applied Technologies, Lucid, and Sony. Lucid will design and construct the battery and battery management software; Sony will supply the small-format, commodity-sized cylindrical cells within; and McLaren will manage the logistics and trackside support.

“Our batteries will power the entire Formula E race series for seasons 5 and 6,” said Rawlinson. “There are some major automakers entering that series—illustrious, well-recognized names—and they will all be running our batteries.”

“It was a very, very rigorous evaluation, with many bidders.”

Peter Rawlinson, Lucid chief technical officer

Rawlinson also pointed out that, while many larger companies are marketing their technology to Formula E, Lucid is being paid to supply the battery technology. Right now, Formula E cars have their packs swapped partway through the race, but the new pack is said to allow them to finish races uninterrupted and be lighter than with today’s Williams-supplied pack. That progress is enabled partly through the evolution of the cell technology itself and partly through the engineering of the California-based development team, C/D was told.

Rapid Progress from the Track

Racing drives technological progress for road vehicles in many ways, and this situation won’t be any different. The original FIA battery specifications included a 200-kilogram (441 pound) cell-weight limit, a 200-kW peak power limit, and a maximum usable energy of 28 kWh. In revised specs starting with Season 5, cell weight has been nudged to 250 kg (551 pounds), and peak power goes up to 250 kW (with usable energy very nearly doubled, at 54 kWh). For season 5, which runs in 2018 and 2019, the supplier must also demonstrate that the pack can be fully charged in 45 minutes or less. Lucid’s contract is contingent on several certifications yet to come, as well as a battery crash test by June 2017.

“It was a very, very rigorous evaluation, with many bidders,” said Rawlinson. Candidate submissions were due this past June, and the FIA hired a consultant specifically to vet the bidders and their battery tech.

Formula E testing at Donington ParkActual data—and showing that its packs are up to the torture and extreme regenerative-braking rates necessary to make it through the race—is what won Lucid the FIA contract, according to the company. So did its ability to use simulations. “People don’t often associate data science with car companies, but we have a team of data scientists who gather battery and powertrain data to really do a deep dive, to do this analysis and prevent failures from happening and optimize performance,” said the company’s director of battery technology, Albert Liu. “Batteries are very complex devices, and to have that data from out in the field is a gold mine.”

The physical battery packs will remain Lucid property, and the company will have access to the series data, but the FIA has to be made aware of all the data the company is using.

Lucid is working with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy lab based at Stanford University, and via a collaboration with the lab that uses CAT-scan-like methods, will look at physical degradation and the small-scale fractures within the battery that result from charge/discharge cycles. “It’s not just taking things off the shelf,” said Liu. “These chemistries are Lucid specific, and we consider that a competitive advantage.”

Production Bound: A Cooling System and Pack Up to the Task

The rigors of Formula E usage also will serve as a proving ground for Lucid’s custom architecture for battery cooling. The company not so subtly points to crosstown rival Tesla as an example of performance claims that only deliver under specific conditions. It has already designed intercell cooling around repeat acceleration runs, with its Edna test mule—the quickest van this editor had ever been in, as it covers zero to 60 mph in a claimed 2.9 seconds and boasts twin motors/inverters and 1200 horsepower—aiming to provide acceleration performance numbers that are reproducible not just in close succession but across the battery’s state of charge. And designing a pack that’s ready for potential 350-kW fast-charging parallels some of the cooling requirements for racing-level brake-energy recovery.

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Liu cautioned that this is no indication that the company will go with cells from Sony—which is in the process of selling its battery business to Murata—for the production model. Lucid still is evaluating which exact size of cylindrical cell it’s going to use in the production sedan: the 18650 used by Tesla (supplied for that automaker by Panasonic) or the somewhat larger 21700. It’s working with suppliers who will assemble cells with a chemistry exclusive to the company.

“The technology that applies to the sedan, there’s a lot of carryover, but we’re still in discussion with multiple suppliers. It’s a good problem, that we have very attractive options right now,” Liu said. It’s also a rare opportunity for an automaker to be part of globally sanctioned racing prior to producing any vehicles whatsoever. So we’re especially eager to see what happens on the track and on the street with Lucid.


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