- Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson has long emphasized software’s importance to the startup.
- But even after fixes and updates, more pressing issues could now stand in Lucid’s way.
- Lucid hasn’t yet publicly addressed the latest issues, which include reports of cars bricking or driving the wrong way.
When Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson talks about his startup’s debut electric vehicle, the Lucid Air, he talks about range, performance, and design. But chief above all is software.
“It’s the software that drives the powertrain, the software that manages the batteries, all the software that controls the critical components of the vehicle,” he said on a Q3 earnings call this week. “Software is a key element for Lucid Air’s unheralded performance and efficiency.”
Software also underpins Lucid’s user experience, displays, screen layout, navigation, climate control, smartphone syncing, and “DreamDrive” driver-assistance system. It serves as a differentiator between Lucid and every other software-driven EV-maker and as justification for the $179,000 price tag commanded by the top-tier version of the Air.
“It’s critical that we maintain our competitive advantages by delivering a unique combination of hardware and software,” Rawlinson told investors on a February earnings call.
And many Lucid Air customers say it’s often a mess. Lucid has issued updates to address interface troubles with Alexa, Bluetooth, and navigation, as well as issues with DreamDrive, its competitor to Tesla’s Autopilot.
That may be improving, as is Lucid’s troubled production process.
But over the past year, more disconcerting issues have arisen, threatening to overshadow that work. In recent complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, owners reported a mix of software, hardware, and electronics troubles, including having their car drive forward while in reverse, and suddenly stopping while on the highway after entering what EV owners know as “turtle mode.”
Software is an increasingly vital capability for automakers, and not just for the startups hoping to recreate Tesla’s success. Industry incumbents have released plans to spend a combined $74 billion on software over the next five years, according to the consultancy SBD Automotive. Nailing down the electronics, and hardware as Rawlinson also alluded to, is equally critical to get right.
Lucid hasn’t yet publicly addressed the latest issues. Instead, it’s leaning on frequent updates, touting the newly released version of its software, the simply named 2.0, as “the most extensive to date, with significant advancements and improvements.”
Lucid’s ability to separate itself from its competition may ride on that system’s success, especially as it continues to scale up. It had about 2,400 vehicles in customer hands as of the third quarter. Lucid dropped its 2022 target twice, and once planned to build 50,000 vehicles in 2023, but did not confirm that target in third-quarter earnings this week.
“They’re going to have to have really impressive features to justify the price that they’re asking,” said Garrett Nelson, CFRA’s vice president of equity research, who’s bullish on the company. “Lucid doesn’t have that yet, and it’s going to be tough for them to really have a differentiated software offering which would allow them to get to that point.”
Insider spoke with 19 Lucid owners for this story — all of whom reported some software or hardware problems — as well as seven current former and Lucid software engineers. Most were granted anonymity, as they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about Lucid or requested not to be named for privacy reasons. Their identities are known to Insider.
Most Lucid owners who spoke with Insider over the past year said they liked the car overall, and they chalked up software glitches as inconveniences.
“If the car sits in the sun for the afternoon, DreamDrive won’t read speed-limit signs,” an owner in Arizona told Insider. “I have displays that periodically crash. You ask Alexa to do something and two of your displays crash, and until you reset the car it stays that way.”
Lucid has done a fair job of correcting such glitches, owners said. An engineer who recently left the company said the system was no longer what the person described as “the complete shitshow it was before.”
“This latest software release incorporates numerous refinements — many based on owner feedback and ideas — which make Lucid Air even more enjoyable, convenient, and capable for our customers,” a Lucid representative told Insider in a statement. The company declined to comment on specific vehicle concerns, citing a quiet period leading up to reporting third-quarter earnings.
Lucid has been scrambling over the past year to shore up its in-house software development. Eight current and former Lucid employees who spoke with Insider described working weekends, holidays, and long hours to meet what they felt were unrealistic deadlines set by management.
Some of them pinned this on Rawlinson. The chief executive, a veteran mechanical engineer with a history at Tesla, is not a software expert — he’s said as much. “Some people were not a big fan of Peter for his lack of software background,” one former developer said.
Rawlinson (who of late has been spending more time on the factory floor) has leaned on Big Tech talent like the Apple alumni Margaret Burgraff, the vice president of software validation; Michael Bell, the senior vice president of digital; and Derrick Carty, the newly hired vice president of platform software engineering. Rawlinson told investors in an August earnings call that Lucid rolled out 19 software updates in the first half of 2022, and noted in this week’s call with investors there were an additional 14 updates in Q3.
And — just one year after it began building cars — Lucid pushed 2.0. The startup touted the updated system as showing the “potential” of software-defined vehicles. It gives drivers a new “instant-on” glass cockpit, highway assist, better range prediction, and de-icing mode, among other tweaks.
“Given the high price point for the Lucid Air, customers will expect a polished, luxury experience,” said SBD’s lead UX researcher, Adam Jefferson. “While initial tests highlight some significant shortcomings in the early version of the system, Lucid, like its startup competitors, are rapidly deploying over-the-air updates to improve.”
The benefit of the doubt
Lucid certainly isn’t the first EV maker to experience challenges, and it has one inherent upstart advantage: It’s working with a newer vehicle architecture and is thus more flexible in what it can do with updates. It isn’t tied down by the older platforms found in legacy products.
That flexibility is why a Lucid developer said he was giving it the benefit of the doubt, at least on software, for the time being.
“I was very appalled by the state of software that we had at one point,” he said, pointing to issues with accessing menus and syncing smartphones to the car. “Things are improving at a much faster rate now.”
Yet other problems with safety implications have persisted, according to posts in the Lucid owners forum (an independent, public site dedicated to company enthusiasts and those who say they own a Lucid vehicle), NHTSA complaints, and Insider interviews with owners. Those include drive-system faults, 12-volt battery and other battery-fault errors, and problems with “turtle mode,” where vehicles suddenly lose speed or stop at random, despite being adequately charged. These issues have often required rebooting or towing.
“What really concerns me is, is my drivetrain going to stop while I’m on the highway at 70 miles per hour?” an owner in Texas said.
“Lucid has the in-house technical depth to continue to innovate and enhance our vehicles long after they leave the assembly line,” the company said in its statement. “We have integrated hardware and software engineering because hardware and software work together for a holistic experience in vehicles and doing this well requires that you own and build the technologies yourself.”
But while Lucid has worked to service individual cars, owners told Insider, it hasn’t publicly addressed these issues.
“I don’t know why Lucid is not communicating that or acknowledging that problem in a public way,” one owner on the West Coast told Insider. “That’s the thing I’m worried about the most.”
Are you a current or former Lucid employee? Do you own a Lucid vehicle? Do you have a news tip or opinion you’d like to share? Contact this reporter from a non-work device and account at [email protected] or on Signal at 313-570-6709.