Lucid Motors has announced that it is making a new motorsport drive unit (MDU) for what it calls “the world’s largest single-seat electric racing series”. For reasons unknown to us at this time, Lucid does not use the Formula E name to refer to its motorsport achievements. Since there is only one “leading single-seat electric racing series”, we are indeed talking about the front motor used in the Formula E Gen 3 cars shown 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. Gen 3 cars added Lucid’s front-mounted unit. Despite the use of the word “drive”, the unit does not drive the front wheels – it is used as a generator feeding up to 250kW of regenerative braking power to the system. Combined with a rear drive unit increased to 350 kW, the Gen 3 cars offer a power potential of 600 kW.
Lucid developed the unit in-house, its compact housing containing the motor, inverter, differential and transmission. The entire kaboodle weighs 32 kilograms (70.5 pounds) and can produce 469 horsepower, giving it a power density of 14.7 hp/kg. This is the same maximum power produced by the rear drive motors that each of the series manufacturers can choose to build for themselves or purchase. So, yes, a team could buy the MDU from Lucid and glue it to the rear as well, much like Venturi Racing sold their FE powertrains to Dragon Racing and Mercedes-Benz. Up front, however, the unit is limited to that power output of 250 kW, or 268 horsepower.
Automaker CEO Peter Rawlinson said “the new motorsport drive unit builds on Lucid’s in-house developed and road-proven powertrain technology in every Lucid Air,” reversing the boastful customary to put racing technology on the road. The MDU uses high voltage continuous wave winding technology and microjet cooling as the motors in the production air. Rawlinson also hinted at the possibility that “some of the technical advancements introduced may find their way into future Lucid road cars.”
The race-road line, however, is almost as blurred at Lucid as it is at Porsche or Ferrari. Lucid started as a company called Atieva, founded by former Tesla vice president Bernard Tse with entrepreneur and investor Sam Weng in 2007, focused on software and battery packs. Atieva was renamed Lucid in 2016, with the Atieva name being used for the technology arm of Lucid. Rawlinson became CEO and CTO of Lucid in 2019, replacing Weng, while Tse remains CEO of Atieva. The official name of the front drive unit supplier is Atieva. Do you have all that?
More importantly, the new MDU news means Lucid has swapped vendor status with FE. Lucid has worked with McLaren Applied Technologies and Sony to supply the 54kW batteries for Formula E Gen 2 cars that have taken the cars to full race distance from 2018, and Lucid says: “You’ll find the same racing – Atieva’s proven technology in your Lucid Air too.” So the Air has always been a bit racy, now Formula E is getting a 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.