It wasn’t anywhere close to its splashy and controversial reveal at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, but electric car startup Faraday Future still showed up this year’s tech conference. You just had to know where to find them.
Tucked away in the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel, the ambitious but deeply troubled car startup is spending CES this week quietly giving rides in a prototype designed to show off the performance of its flagship vehicle, an all-electric crossover dubbed the FF 91. It’s a vast departure from the high-profile, officially sanctioned CES event in 2017—an acknowledgment of the company’s financial struggles over the last 12 months.
By the looks of it, though, Faraday’s paying no mind to naysayers who’ve written them off as a failed experiment of a tech entrepreneur who’s in over his head. On Monday, every time the car cycled into the lot of the Renaissance, interested observers immediately started to crowd around the prototype, paying no mind to traffic as they snapped pictures and chatted wildly about what was in front of them.
Sure, it wasn’t the kind of buzz you’d get from revealing a new car—something the latest electric car startup, Byton, enjoyed this week. But it was more interest than you’d expect for a company that spent the last half of 2017 seemingly on the cusp of insolvency.
In part, that has a lot to do with the FF 91 itself and the work that Faraday has put into it. On paper, it’s a car that has the means to compete with a Tesla Model S, packing 1,050 horsepower and impressive performance into a massive frame that spans 206 inches, about a foot longer than a Tesla Model X.
The matte black finish of the prototype shown this week might appear too aggressive in photos—and, yes, most of the time an all-black look looks terrible—but up close I seriously thought it worked. That had a lot to do with the warmer quality of the wraparound headlight and taillights, with a design that I couldn’t recall from last year’s reveal. All around the car was just interesting to look at. Amid a never-ending class of impossibly boring crossovers, that alone’s a worthwhile quality to have.
No one’s ever disputed that Faraday Future’s engineers are developing impressive technology. It was everything else there that was the problem. Aside from its financial woes, it was here at CES two years ago when the company vowed to disrupt everything we know about cars and transportation the way the iPhone did for personal communications, all without offering much in the way of proof. It’s been a rocky path for the company ever since, and one filled with a skepticism from journalists and prospective customers that it didn’t seem to expect.
Before the sun set on Tuesday, Faraday squeezed in about 20 minutes to give me a ride around the frantic traffic of Las Vegas and show off the vehicle. Inside, as advertised, the car’s a shell. But as the driver Robin Shute—a Faraday engineer and race car driver who drove the FF 91 at Pikes Peak—whipped around corners and punched the throttle, it was easy to make sense of the car’s idea: peel back the endless layers of mobility-speak Faraday’s so keen to offer, and you’ll find an electric car that’s quick and downright fun to drive, with more than enough space to produce what’ll hopefully be a smart, ambitious interior.
At one point, we found a stretch that let Shute show off the car’s ability to maneuver lanes with ease, and accelerate at a clip that throws you into the back of your seat. Yes, the 0-60 debate may be a bit useless in the electric/autonomous vehicle space, but this was supposed to be a showstopper, a mule that illustrates the FF 91's capability. Who doesn’t like the rush of a 2-3 second gallop to 60 mph? It’s goddamn fun.
Faraday had a relentless turnover in 2017, and there’s no debate the last few months were especially tumultuous. Top executives fled, as the new CEO and—for a long time—main financier Jia Yueting refused to step aside for possible investment in the company. And sources close to Faraday have said more employees left even in the days leading up to CES.
The decision in November to publicly beef with Faraday’s now-departed CFO and CTO, Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz, is still astounding and is surely going to deter some prospective employees from taking interest in the company in the future.
But those on-site this week appeared to be relishing the company’s underdog status.
Shute in particular seems like he’s having fun. Now with Faraday for about 18 months, he said the attention from passersby this week has been especially enjoyable.
“People are like, ‘You’re still here?’” he said with a smile. “Yeah, we’re still here.”
That’s not to say the company expects 2018 to be an easy go. Jia’s vision for the auto industry lured talented individuals to Faraday from Silicon Valley and traditional automakers. But his leadership led them to seek opportunities elsewhere at the still-growing number of car startups based out of California. With Jia assuming the CEO role, it’s almost certainly going to be more of a challenge to find talented engineers and designers willing to take the chance on a company that’s already been through as much as Faraday has in its three-year existence.
But the money—remarkably—appears to be there, a new investment reportedly worth more than $1 billion. It’s a lifeline that gives Faraday the breathing room to pay off vendors and focus on finishing the FF 91.
The company’s official line remains that production will begin in 2018, and they’re well aware that’s a tall order. A price still hasn’t been set, final specs still aren’t known, and the interior needs to be finished.
Without a doubt, the 2018 date doesn’t mean cars are flying off a finely-tuned production line by the end of the year. Rather it’d simply be getting the FF 91 into the hands of Faraday’s very first customers.
It probably goes without saying, but that means Faraday needs to rein in the chaos of relentless turnover, and find a way to streamline its business so it’s not dealing with the financial instability that consumed it for the last 18 months. Figuring out exactly what the company wants to be—something more narrowly-defined than a reimagining of the already-tortured concept of mobility—could help, too. It’s also facing an ever-growing number of competitors in the EV space.
But Faraday’s presence was an affirmation that it remains intent on getting a car made, even in the face of the intense, appropriate skepticism it faced over the last year. The company still has a relentlessly long way to go, but if it pulls it off and puts a car into production, that’d be quite a story to tell.