Faraday Future’s FF91 electric, self-driving car
Faraday Future has kept fairly quiet in the months following its January appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The electric-car startup’s showing earned some mixed reviews at the time. The event was not without glitches, and the presentation was seen by some as rough around the edges.
Faraday, like most of the upstart automotive companies of late, has remained aggressive in its bid to stake a claim in the future of driving. That means autonomous, electric vehicles – drenched from bumper to bumper in immersive technology.
The mission is not easy. Building a car company is hard enough, but setting out to completely redefine the concept of driving, as Faraday Future says it wants to do, is a gargantuan task, fraught with nearly endless potential for failure. This week, the company released a video of its first car, the FF91, driving on public roads in what looks to be nearly production-level livery.
The weeks leading up to CES were fraught with bad news for the California-based electric car startup. Construction on its $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas had stalled. Suppliers were suing for unpaid bills. And several investigations, including one by The Verge, exposed new details about the company’s financial difficulties. Several top executives resigned. The bad press threatened to overshadow FF’s much-hyped event.
But then the FF91 emerged on the CES stage, and it looked like Faraday Future’s critics had gotten it wrong. Executives attempted to show the vehicle’s self-parking feature (one attempt was successful, one not) and then the company showed the FF91 in a mock-drag race among a trio of ultra-fast rivals. The car had a real engine! And it was fast! At the end of the event, chief engineer Nick Sampson sounded a defiant note: “I can say now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all the naysayers and skeptics, we will carry on and make the impossible possible.”
The stalled construction on the $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas? “We’ll start very early in the new year,” Sampson said. (During the event, FF played a video that showed close-ups of dirt moving along a conveyor belt, but no foundation or additional construction.)
The loss of some of the company’s most high-profile executives? “A company like FF… is a difficult company to work with, in terms of the environment, the culture,” he said. “It doesn’t suit every individual.” Lead designer Richard Kim, who also was present, chimed in: “It’s not a nine-to-fiver.”
Price wasn’t mentioned, but rumors place it somewhere between $100,000-$120,000, the same price range as a loaded Model S. This strategy is clearly to capture luxury customers, and use that as a springboard to build a more mass-market vehicle. FF claims to have collected 64,124 reservations in the 36 hours since the FF91 was unveiled. Some of those reservations include a $5,000 refundable deposit, but FF won’t say how much it raked in.
FF still has hundreds of engineers, including a half-dozen top executives with long histories in the automotive and racing worlds. But the odds against it are huge, and it will take more than a pretty car on a stage to convince people its a company worth investing in.
After my test ride, I spoke to Sampson about his company’s ongoing challenges. “In some ways, there’s nothing you can do to make the skeptics believe,” he said. “The skeptics moaned last year that we brought out the Batmobile as so many called it. They said you’re not serious, it’s vaporware, it’s bullshit. We said trust us, believe us, we know what we’re doing. And we were back this year with a car.”
This year, FF demonstrated three “virtues,” Sampson said: beauty, brains, and brawn. The car is certainly not hard on the eyes. Sure, it parks itself, so it has smarts. And it slays on the track. But Sampson forgot the fourth virtue: humility. FF needs to stop making larger-than-life promises, and start delivering.