Build or sell? That’s the choice faced by electric vehicle startup Lucid Motors, which is considering several acquisition offers even as it raises money to build its own assembly plant for its Tesla Model S rival, the Lucid Air.
Contrary to some reports, Ford is still very much interested in acquiring the Silicon Valley-based startup, according to one person very close to the negotiations. Jim Hackett, Ford’s new CEO, visited the company with a number of executives on June 28. Ford subsequently presented Lucid with a draft contract called a term sheet. Even if Lucid agreed to sell, there would be a period of research and due diligence before the acquisition closed.
However, Recode has been told that at least two other unnamed companies are also interested in acquiring the startup, and that the Series D funding round is proceeding in parallel. One source describes the fundraising as “a work in process,” with Lucid sitting on financing offers of more than $200 million while it considers selling the company outright.
Lucid has had a turbulent history. Founded as Atieva in 2007 by an ex-vice president of Tesla, the company initially focused on batteries and drivetrains for electric cars and buses, building up a valuable store of patents. Early in 2014, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding, one of China’s leading state-owned carmakers, and LeEco, a Chinese internet company, invested $100 million so that Atieva could develop its own vehicle.
BAIC was meant to help build and market a sedan to rival the Tesla Model S in China. However, BAIC’s involvement did not last long. “They wanted to be in control of the company,” said a source close to Lucid. “That was very disruptive in terms of day-to-day operations.” In April 2016, BAIC sold its shares, which ended up in the hands of LeEco’s owner, billionaire Jia Yueting, two sources confirmed to Recode.
As it turned out, Jia was just as disruptive as BAIC. In the summer of 2014, he had quietly formed his own EV company, Faraday Future, to develop and build yet another rival high-end electric car. Faraday Future has since suffered a series of high-profile mishaps, including a failed demonstration of autonomous technology at CES and the suspension of a $1 billion factory construction project in Nevada.
In May, Jia resigned from LeEco’s parent company amid concerns over its liquidity and his personal finances. Earlier this month, it was reported that Jia said he had sold his stake in Lucid Motors for several hundred million dollars. Lucid would be delighted to see the back of Jia and any lingering association with the troubled Faraday Future. However, a source close to Lucid says that reports of Jia selling his shares are probably untrue.
Lucid Motors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, development of the $60,000 Lucid Air has been proceeding well, and it was recently shown reaching 235 mph on a test track. However, Lucid has had its own setbacks, including abandoning attempts to design its own self-driving technology in favor of using a semi-autonomous system from Mobileye, now part of Intel.
Lucid plans to build an assembly plant in China, which would be financed entirely by local and regional government incentives. The site of its proposed U.S. factory, Casa Grande, Ariz., is being somewhat less generous. Lucid has a $1.5 million job-training grant from Arizona and is negotiating a further $5 million grant, according to a spokesperson for the state’s commerce authority. It could also apply for a tax credit program worth up to another $40 million.
However, the make-or-break loan for the $700 million facility would be a U.S. Department of Energy program to help build advanced-technology car plants. Tesla benefited from a $465 million DOE loan in 2010, while Ford secured one for $5.9 billion. But because the loan reimburses expenses rather than paying them up front, Lucid cannot move forward until it has financing in place.
Lucid began its fourth round of institutional fundraising earlier this year, with the help of investment bank Morgan Stanley. Ford’s acquisition offer came as a surprise, said a source close to Lucid: “The bank approached Ford to see if they wanted to participate in the Series D. They came back and said they wanted to acquire.”
Global carmakers usually shy away from investments where they would be minority shareholders. Buying Lucid outright would let Ford freely use its core technologies in powertrains and batteries, and secure a valuable hoard of patents for the future.
It could also mean the Casa Grande factory never gets built, thinks Joe Paluska, an automotive industry consultant. “My personal point of view is that Lucid is unable to come to market as Lucid, due to the significant financing and operational hurdles that face any Tesla challenger,” he said. “A more likely scenario is that they are acquired by a more traditional carmaker who may need a premium EV play to compete.”
Mark Harris is an investigative technology reporter based in Seattle. In 2014, he was Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and in 2015 he won the AAS Kavli Science Journalism Gold Award. Reach him @meharris.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.