Lucid Motors is providing front drive unit for Formula E

Lucid Motors has announced that it’s making a new motorsports drive unit (MDU) for what it calls “the world’s leading single-seater electric racing series.” For reasons unknown to us at the moment, Lucid doesn’t use the name Formula E when speaking of its motorsport accomplishments. Since there’s only one “leading single-seater electric racing series,” we are indeed talking about the front motor used in the Gen 3 Formula E cars introduced for this season at the opening race in Mexico. Until this year, FE cars only used a 200-kilowatt motor on the rear axle to turn the rear wheels. The Gen 3 cars have added Lucid’s front-mounted unit. Despite the use of the word “drive,” the unit won’t drive the front wheels — it’s used as a generator feeding up to 250 kW of regen braking energy to the system. Combined with a rear drive unit upgraded to 350 kW, the Gen 3 cars boast 600 kW of power potential.  

Lucid developed the unit in-house, its compact case containing the motor, inverter, differential and transmission. The whole kaboodle weighs 32 kilograms (70.5 pounds) and can produce 469 horsepower, giving it a power density of 14.7 hp/kg. That’s the same max horsepower produced by the rear drive motors that each of the manufacturers in the series can choose to make for themselves or buy. So, yes, a team could buy Lucid’s MDU and stick it at the back as well, just like Venturi Racing used to sell its FE powertrains to Dragon Racing and Mercedes-Benz. At the front, however, the unit’s limited to that 250-kW energy production, or 268 horsepower.  

Automaker CEO Peter Rawlinson said “the new motorsports drive unit builds upon powertrain technology developed in-house by Lucid and proven on the road in every Lucid Air,” reversing the usual tout about putting race technology on the road. The MDU employs the high-voltage continuous wave winding and microjet cooling tech as the motors in the production Air. Rawlinson also hinted about the possibility “some of the technical advancements introduced may make their way to future Lucid road cars.”

The race-road line is almost as blurred at Lucid as it is at Porsche or Ferrari, though. Lucid started as a company called Atieva, founded by ex-Tesla VP Bernard Tse with entrepreneur and investor Sam Weng in 2007, focused on battery software and packs. Atieva rebranded to Lucid in 2016, the Atieva name being used for Lucid’s technology arm. Rawlinson came on as Lucid’s CEO and CTO in 2019, replacing Weng, while Tse remains the CEO of Atieva. The official name of the front drive unit supplier is Atieva. Got all that?  

More importantly, the new MDU news means Lucid has swapped its supplier status with FE. Lucid worked with McLaren Applied Technologies and Sony to provide the 54-kW battery packs for the Gen 2 Formula E cars that enabled the cars to run a full race distance starting in 2018, and Lucid says, “You’ll find the same race-proven technology from Atieva in your Lucid Air, too.” So the Air has always been a little bit racy, now Formula E is getting a little bit Air-y. 

We’ll find out just how racy the current Air sedan can be when the Air Sapphire begins deliveries later this year. It would be a shame if independent EV restomod outfits couldn’t get this new MDU in their own builds as well.

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