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Tesla challenger Lucid Motors also in talks with Saudi Arabia for reported $1 billion funding

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Lucid Motors has been scrounging for new funding since last summer

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is negotiating a more than $1 billion investment into Lucid Motors, an electric car startup run by battery company Atieva, Reuters reports. The Saudis and Lucid are far enough along in discussions that the two sides have drawn up a term sheet, a document typically used to outline the broader points of a potential deal.

As it stands, the sovereign wealth fund’s investment in Lucid Motors would come in stages, and the first would be for $500 million, according to the report. Lucid will reportedly be eligible for two additional stages of an undisclosed amount as long as the company hits certain production milestones. The investment would be a boon for Lucid, which has languished over the last year as it failed to secure the funding necessary to start making cars.

News of the talks comes less than two weeks after Saudi Arabia purchased 5 percent of Tesla and emerged as a central player in Elon Musk’s effort to take the company private again. The development of the Lucid Air, the company’s first production car, is being led by Peter Rawlinson, who came to the startup from Tesla after serving as chief engineer of the Model S. Atieva was founded in 2007 by former Tesla vice president Bernard Tse.

A spokesperson for Lucid Motors said they “do not comment on Lucid’s fundraising activities.” A representative for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Lucid Motors unveiled the Air at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2016. It brought a prototype version to CES in 2017 and spent the rest of the year slowly letting out more information about the car, including its estimated price (the base model will cost about $60,000) and ship date (2019). It also slowly showed off the car’s impressive performance capabilities.

But Atieva, the parent company that runs Lucid Motors, has not been able to come up with enough money to put the Lucid Air into production. The company has locked down a site in Arizona where it wants to build a $700 million factory, but it has had trouble securing a new round of funding to help make that happen. Ford was rumored to be interested in buying the company last summer, but a deal never materialized. Aside from moving to a new headquarters in December, the company has been mostly silent over the past year.

Lucid Motors was in “an exclusive negotiation arrangement with a preferred lead investor” as recently as April, according to emails with the local Arizona government obtained by The Verge through a public records request. It’s not clear if the preferred lead investor mentioned in the emails was the Saudi investment fund.

The problem with locking down a larger funding round could be coming from the man behind rival startup Faraday Future. Jia Yueting, the founder and CEO of Faraday Future, still owns a more than 20 percent stake in Atieva that he bought in 2016.

Jia, buoyed by a recent $2 billion investment into Faraday Future, has become more reluctant to sell his stake in a direct competitor, according to a person familiar with the situation. “[Jia] had always had a destructive strategy with Lucid,” this person says. “He doesn’t want them to succeed.”

Jia’s potential interference with Lucid’s efforts surfaced in a lawsuit against Faraday Future that was filed in early August. EVelozcity, another electric car startup that was founded by Faraday Future’s former CFO Stefan Krause, claimed in the complaint that Jia — who goes by YT — “has mortgaged the shares in Lucid to alleviate his worsening debt crisis and has actively worked to thwart acquisition attempts, exacerbating the company’s financial problems. YT did so to hinder Lucid’s development, and YT’s actions as a shareholder at Lucid have been described as nothing short of ‘disruptive.’” (A spokesperson for Faraday Future did not respond to a request for comment in time for publish.)

In the meantime, Atieva has turned to other measures to help secure funding to keep Lucid Motors alive. On two occasions in 2017, the company entered into an agreement where it put some of its many patents up as collateral for loans, according to previously unreported contracts posted by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

In March of last year, the company reached an agreement with Trinity Capital, an Arizona hedge fund. That deal was worth about $30 million, according to the person familiar with Lucid’s funding. Lucid reached another such deal in October with Yinlong Electric Vehicle Group, a Chinese company that makes electric buses, for an undisclosed amount. (A representative for Trinity Capital declined to comment, and Yinlong Electric Vehicle could not be reached.)

Lucid also tried last summer to secure funding assistance through tax credits worth about $50 million by working with a firm called Dudley Ventures, according to the emails. But the company wasn’t “at a point where we could help them,” a representative for Dudley Ventures told The Verge.