It’s been a rough year for erstwhile electric car company Faraday Future. Several members of a senior staff recruited from the likes of Tesla, BMW, and Google, as well as the aerospace and medical device sectors, reportedly jumped ship. The company fell behind in paying the contractor building its factory in Nevada, where state treasurer Dan Schwartz called Faraday Future a Ponzi scheme. Its funding comes from the founder of the Chinese tech giant LeEco, which is building an electric car you could call a rival.
A Faraday Future spokesperson says that, as a private company, it does not discuss its finances, and the next stage of the factory is slated for construction soon.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that the company has been on a major publicity blitz, desperate to convince people that its car isn’t vaporware. It teased videos of a camouflaged car outracing a top-of-the-line Tesla Model X, a Bentley Bentyaga, and a Ferrari 488GTB. Impressive.
And tonight at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Faraday Future pulled the sheet off an all-new, tech-tastic, Tesla-eating, electric car. The rough luck continued though, when the car failed to perform quite as planned during its on-stage demo. The FF91 looks like a squashed station wagon in the front, and a party at a baroque church at the back. Long, low, and wide, it definitely has more personality than the more businesslike Model X—offering limo-like dimensions and comfort, a soft and rounded exterior, and swooped up winglets in the name of aerodynamic efficiency. Inside you’ll find fully reclining seats and flat surfaces that double as touchscreens or light displays.
“We are about extreme technology,” says Nick Sampson, senior VP of engineering and R&D. “Our lives have become very digital and connected, but our cars have not, as yet.”
The FF91 looks nothing like the bizarre single-seater Batmobile that the company showed last year at CES. That’s a good thing. Faraday Future promises a high-end but practical electric vehicle that can beat Tesla at its own game, and the FF91 is much closer to that goal—an ultra-luxury passenger vehicle with all sorts of gadgetry.
Another similarity with Tesla: Faraday Future is accepting reservations, even though the FF91 doesn’t really exist yet. Just $5,000 will secure your place in line, but unlike the relatively affordable $35,000 Tesla Model 3, Faraday Future hasn’t announced a price. It won’t be cheap, assuming the company comes through on its promise to actually build these things. It says its benchmark is the value of a Bentley.
After a demonstration ride in a pre-production vehicle, driven by a chassis engineer around an empty parking lot near the company’s Los Angeles HQ, I can confirm that the FF91 is neck-snappingly fast, and takes tight turns without much fuss. The official 0-60 time is 2.39 seconds. A 130 kilowatt-hour battery (30 percent larger than Tesla’s biggest) should deliver a range of 378 miles. The loooong wheelbase should mean it turns like a bus, but active rear steering means makes it sashay through a perimeter of cones that a Tesla Model X plows right over.
But there’s a big difference between building 12 demo models (the current production output) and building at scale. As they say in the auto biz, anyone can build one. “From a prototype to a vehicle that will conform legally, there’s an enormous amount of work and investment needed,” says John Fleming, who advises SME (previously the Society of Manufacturing Engineers), and who worked at Ford for 48 years. “Tesla is on the leading edge of this disruptive influence, but even they’re struggling to really get the volumes they expect.”
The Faraday Future team has worked hard on some cool ideas for the future of motoring, and it would be a shame if they don’t make it to production. The hood of the FF91 has a pop-up LIDAR sensor, which provides basic self-driving capabilities, including a “robot valet” function where the car finds its own parking space. The company tried to demonstrate that function to the crowd at CES, but it refused to move.
Cameras in the B-pillars—the uprights just behind the front doors—recognize approaching passengers, and open the suicide rear doors (a cool way of saying they open on rear-mounted hinges for easier access and, frankly, badass looks). Perhaps less usefully, the car will recognize your mood from facial expressions and adjust the music, seat massager, and even aromatherapy scents to suit your demeanor.
An array of lights integrated into the doors and the front and back of the car can communicate with the outside world, letting other road users know when the computer is in charge, for example, or whether a vehicle is available for ride sharing.
The interior has what the company is calling zero-g seats in the back, which recline and lift passengers’ legs. A screen folds down from the roof for a cinema-like experience. These features may be welcome in a fully autonomous car, but in the shorter term, rear seat luxury also sells well in China where the wealthy have drivers.
If you believe Faraday Future, the company will start building the cars at scale in 2018. That seems optimistic. If you drop that $5000 on a deposit, be prepared for a long wait.