Among the many mysteries surrounding cash-strapped electric car startup Faraday Future is where it begins and its Chinese backer, LeEco, ends. FF and LeEco describe one another as merely a “strategic partner,” but inside sources have told Jalopnik that their ties are far deeper than they appear. Now a new report makes the mystery even more bizarre.
See, there’s Faraday Future, which doesn’t even officially have a CEO but is financially backed by “Chinese Netflix” titan Jia Yueting, who is also extending his LeEco business into the auto market and unveiled a self-driving car called the LeSee Pro in October.
But why do both, and why does FF exist if LeEco also plans to challenge Tesla with an electric, autonomous car in the U.S. and Chinese markets?
Well. Among the revelations in Priya Anand’s excellent BuzzFeed News investigation into Faraday Future today is that the LeEco car brought out in San Francisco two months ago was actually designed by Faraday Future employees—who were pulled off their own project to work on it and didn’t see a dime because of it.
In December 2015, employees at Faraday’s headquarters in Gardena, California, received a mandate from Jia: Design a prototype LeEco car that could be shown off publicly at a spring event in Beijing. According to several former employees, some of Faraday’s designers were pulled off of their core projects to work on the vehicle.
And in April 2016, LeEco unveiled a sleek, electric sedan called LeSee. On stage, Jia, who has been outspoken about his plans to usurp Tesla, touted LeSee as a LeEco creation as the white sedan glided across the stage to park in a mock garage. The audience couldn’t see that the seemingly self-driving car was in fact being piloted from backstage via remote control.
That is not great. Also not great is this:
Back in California, some Faraday employees were unsettled, sources told BuzzFeed News. Though they’d designed the car for LeEco per Jia’s request, they were not given credit for doing so, and the company didn’t receive payment in exchange.
And the development of the LeSee had distracted them from work on Faraday’s own vehicles. “[The LeSee project] certainly added pressure onto the design team. It crunched timelines,” a former employee with knowledge of the project told BuzzFeed News. “It certainly made getting deadlines met that much more difficult.”
In China, Jia’s LeEco is one of the biggest streaming services around, but he’s eager to expand into nearly aspect of your technological life, mainly with a common OS to run on your car and your other gadgets.
But Jia’s empire increasingly looks to be in trouble, with an FF factory shutting down construction, ex-employees alleging there’s not as much cash as was promised, and now lawsuits from suppliers and landlords alike.
Jalopnik will have more on this story soon.