Its battery pack will also take to the track in next year’s Formula E.
Atieva will unveil its Tesla rival to select people tomorrow, ahead of a full launch in December, according to two sources close to the company. The vehicle’s look has evolved considerably since early designs of the car, revealed last week by Recode, these sources say.
The soft launch will showcase Atieva’s final design and details of its production plans to hit the company’s ambitious goal of selling cars by the end of 2018. The news comes in a busy week for electric vehicles, which included updates on Tesla’s Model 3 and a new electric vehicle from Chinese tech company LeEco.
The event at Atieva’s Menlo Park office could involve rebranding the company as Lucid Motors, according to one of the sources.
Atieva has also chosen a site in Arizona for its U.S. assembly plant to produce the vehicle, code-named Atvus, these people say. In June, Atieva’s manufacturing director told Reuters the plant would build 20,000 cars a year, eventually rising to 130,000 annually.
One source says that the factory will be built in Casa Grande, which happens to be one of the locations Elon Musk scouted for his own $5 billion Gigafactory to produce battery packs for Tesla vehicles. That facility ended up in Nevada, and is expected to start producing batteries by the end of this year.
“Arizona is not going to want to lose out a second time,” says a senior Atieva engineer who has since left the company. “Apparently, they’re throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Atieva to come to the state.” That likely includes generous tax incentives.
Another motivation for Atieva’s choice might be acting CEO Peter Rawlinson’s competitive streak with Tesla Motors, where he was previously chief engineer for the Model S. Atieva’s high-end sedan is widely known in Silicon Valley as the “vengeance car.”
According to the former engineer, Atieva’s single prototype is currently in Germany for “beautification”; the company will then proceed to make five alpha cars — early development vehicles intended for track and road testing. This is down from an estimated 30 to 35 alpha cars because, one source suggests, the company is struggling for money.
Paying for the assembly plant, costing upwards of $300 million, will likely involve raising another round of funding, according to one source. Atieva will apply for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program that can cover 80 percent of the cost of building a factory, although this is given as a reimbursement rather than an up-front loan.
One small revenue stream Atieva could garner before its first production car rolls out of the factory could be Formula E, the sister racing series to Formula One that uses only electric vehicles. The series will include Atieva’s technology for the 2017-18 season, according to the sources. Fellow EV startups NextEV and Faraday Future already have teams in the championship.
Questions, however, remain about Atieva’s ownership and future. Its board and management remain conflicted about the direction of the company. Chinese technology company LeEco has a stake in Atieva, but also controls rival EV startup Faraday Future.
LeEco’s founder Jia Yueting announced today that Faraday Future would be unveiling its first production at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and that LeEco itself is moving forward with a semi-autonomous electric car called the LeSee Pro.
Neither Atieva, Formula E nor officials from Arizona and Casa Grande replied to requests for a comment on this article.