LOS ANGELES -- While the annual auto show pulsed in the Los Angeles Convention Center last month, Lucid Motors' camouflaged prototype electric luxury sedan sat in a drab parking garage next door, lest it call undue attention to itself.
It's not that Lucid -- formerly known as Atieva -- doesn't want publicity. Last week, the Chinese-backed startup announced plans for a $700 million factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., south of Phoenix. Next week, it plans a big splash near Silicon Valley to finally reveal the car's design and what it calls an innovative business model.
But the car and the company are entering an automotive landscape that is littered with startups whose promises to revolutionize mobility tend to evaporate before the ink is dry on their press releases. Every time that happens, it makes it harder for the next company to assert itself as the real thing, a fact that Lucid and its executives are keenly aware of.
"We don't want to talk about it, we want to show it," Peter Rawlinson, Lucid's chief technology officer, told Automotive News as he circled the car. "We haven't got a show car; our competitors have show cars. This is the real deal."
Sure enough, Lucid's prototype sedan feels like a viable product, primarily because it exists at all, but also because it isn't some outlandish supercar concept that looks like it's engineered purely to gin up headlines. This suggests that Lucid is closing in on that elusive goal for automotive startups: actually building and selling a real car.
Getting to that point will be a daunting task. The 330-person company needs to rise above the growing attention that mainstream luxury automakers are now lavishing on electric vehicles (think Jaguar's I-Pace, Porsche's Mission E, Mercedes-Benz' Generation EQ and Audi's e-tron). It must also avoid being dismissed as just another in a long line of overhyped EV startups that have gone quiet or kaput.
That could be tough, not least because -- despite an executive team stocked with veterans from BMW, Mazda, Ford and Tesla -- Lucid has a vacancy at one key post: CEO.
While Lucid says it hopes to announce one soon, the vacancy raises questions about who's in charge and how much sway investors will have over the business. It also invites an unflattering comparison to Faraday Future, another California-based, Chinese-backed EV startup that has operated without a formal CEO for more than a year.
Faraday landed at the Consumer Electronics Show last January with a splashy 1,000-hp concept racecar, but few clues about its business model, executive structure, funding sources or the promised production vehicle itself. This fall, many of Faraday's prospects seemed to go up in smoke amid executive departures and a cash crunch that led to a work stoppage on its massive plant in North Las Vegas.
As it happens, the two companies are connected through Chinese Internet billionaire Jia Yueting. He provided the bulk of Faraday's funding, and his company LeEco -- itself facing a cash crunch -- is one of Lucid's four key shareholders.