Last night, electric car startup Faraday Future served up the wild FFZERO1 concept as “the most extreme iteration of what it can build” with a barrage of buzzwords that left most people wondering what the hell was actually going on. But according to two company officials who spoke to Jalopnik, there is a real car out there testing on actual roads. We just haven’t seen it yet.
Those seeking real answers about Faraday Future after last night’s sometimes bizarre obfuscation-fest will be unsatisfied, however. At least for now.
For those who didn’t watch Faraday Future’s Las Vegas unveiling live, let’s recap. The startup, flush with cash from the billionaire behind China’s version of Netflix, would like you to know that they have an Amazing Team, a Transformative Vision, Incredible Alliances, and They Are Very Fast.
Also, they said, here is an amazing electric race car that we won’t build.
Journalists and casual observers alike found this frustrating. I was one of them. Faraday Future’s marketing message of being “a new kind of car company” that would “disrupt the industry” and “change everything we know about cars” rang more than a little hollow with little else to go on besides the undeniably radical looking concept before us.
Still, I was willing to reserve judgement until I got to sit down with Faraday Future’s chief designer Richard Kim and a communications representative this morning.
Kim’s not some geek off the streets when it comes to designing cars. He’s the man behind the BMW i3 and i8, two of the most fascinating and progressive approaches to new car building and green performance we’ve seen in years. His sidekick was a comms veteran of Jaguar Land Rover.
Here’s what I was able to glean from them about the company’s inner-workings, feasability, and (no pun intended) future.
Do you guys have a real car or what?
“It’s already through the feasibility shakedowns and test-driving out on roads,” Kim said. But it doesn’t look anything like the spaceworthy Batmobile we saw last night.
So why show us a ridiculous, unbuildable car?
Both balked at the word “unbuildable.”
“All the dimensions, suspension geometry, it’s all real,” Kim said. Apparently the FFZERO1, as insane as it looks, would actually be drivable if only it was connected to a powered platform.
But the answer to the question was simple: they wanted wow-factor.
The car was a passion project, something Kim and his design team were working on nights and weekends. It had them fired up. From a business perspective, Faraday Future figured it’d get the public fired up too. “Whet our appetite” for excitement to increase hype for the real deal, they said.
Will we see elements of this concept in your production car?
“Almost everything on the FFZERO1 has a connection to the production car,” Kim said, adding that the concept was “a distant cousin.”
Kim’s communications guy brought up the (very literal, in this case) smartphone integration in the steering wheel. “You get in a $100,000 Range Rover with your phone in your hand, then use the phone for navigation, and fumble for a place to put it,” he said. The company sees the FFZERO1’s steering wheel cellphone mount as a seamless solution to that problem, and it was hinted that such a feature might be in the road car.
But neither would get specific about the “realistic” feasibility of light strings, air tunnels, yoke-style steering thing or jet-fighter cockpit: any of the other outlandish things we saw on the prototype last night.
When will we be able to drive, or ride in, one of your vehicles?
Faraday Future’s chief engineer has been as specific as “a couple years” on this one. Kim basically told me it’ll happen when the car is good and ready.
In stark contrast to Faraday Future’s party line of “We Are Very Fast,” company officials seemed wary of going to market too soon. “The consumer wants quality, performance, price, it take time to satisfy all these demands,” Kim said.
What price range are you shooting for?
No comment whatsoever on this one.
The FFZERO1 looks like a million dollar hypercar, but if Faraday Future wants to “remix the auto industry,” it’s going to have to build something people can actually afford to use.
Who are your competitors?
The answer here from Kim was a nebulous (and very Silicon Valley) “we don’t see ourselves as a car company.” So no automakers, but also all of them, would be competitors for the consumer’s dollar. As for a price or performance segment in which to benchmark it, we’re just going to have to wait.
What are the biggest challenges you’re still working through?
“Everything,” they said. Not surprising when you’re a startup.
The gentlemen from Faraday Future were not interested in discussing specifics on how they’re planning on selling or servicing their cars, let alone getting them road legal for consumer purchase. But that didn’t stop me from pressing.
How are you planning on selling, servicing, maintaining your products? Getting them government-certified?
The answer sounded like an honest “we don’t know” from Kim and has communications guy.
That’s the scary part. Designing an extreme, aesthetically challenging concept is one thing; making it functional is another, getting it to pass federal and state safety and environmental standards is yet another.
The idea of a dealer network was obviously unformed as well. Whether Faraday Future is even planning on selling cars in some semblance of a “traditional” model or wants to go a completely different route is also yet to be determined. We know they’re big on autonomy, so that will have a big impact on the idea of ownership and mobility.
But the Nevada factory’s going up in a couple weeks.
In case you didn’t know, Faraday Future in December secured $335 million in state incentives from Nevada to build what it says will be a $1 billion manufacturing plant. And the company says groundbreaking is set to begin this month. Is this for real, I asked?
There was no doubt on the face of either Kim or his accomplice about the company’s commitment to building their megalithic assembly facility in North Las Vegas. By the end of January, Faraday Future will be building their plant, they insisted.
Both Kim and his fellow representative have worked at large traditional automakers, so I asked: Why don’t shops like BMW and Jaguar Land Rover pull stunts like Faraday?
“I can’t speak to their business plans,” Kim said, “but companies like that are big machines, and things move slowly.” Remember how this one is supposed to be faster?
Faraday Future says they’re building cars without clay models, going straight from digital rendering to tangible parts. This speeds along the production process.
Does that mean it allows for more mistakes? I guess we’ll see how the first batch of Faraday Futuremobiles come out. Or we won’t.
Does Faraday Future still have something interesting up its sleeve, or will it just go up in a smoldering pile of defaced dollar bills?
This, of course, is the only question you’ve got and probably the reason you’re reading this. The answer is still disappointingly insipid because it’s the only thing Faraday Future is really willing to support their claims with: “Trust us.”
We were told Faraday Future will disrupt, then we sat though a presentation I would have expected from any high-end automaker down to the well-dressed woman posing with the product. We were told that crazy concept would work if made real; “Just look at the suspension and frame!”, they said, but who can tell a properly-positioned shock absorber from a prop?
Finally, I felt myself holding back a chuckle when I heard that Faraday Future will “Think Different.” Both Kim and his assistant seem like intelligent people with earnest confidence in their product, not to mention good resumes; the rest of the company’s personnel lineup seems much the same.
But with so many significant questions still unanswered about this Great Disruptor, it was hard for me not to feel like I was less in a presentation by a major automotive force to be reckoned with and more in an episode of Silicon Valley.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Faraday Future has in store, but I’m still deeply skeptical. And I know I’m not the only one.
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