I mean, it’s fast. Duh. But like, you don’t get how fast it is. It moves your grey matter. Seriously, it feels like your brain sloshes back inside your skull when the Faraday Future FF 91 takes off, 1,050 horsepower spinning all four wheels on launch.
Faraday Future put on a second, more private media event the day after its big international debut, one that everyone remembers more for the buzzwords and the car failing to park itself on stage than for the car itself.
But I knew that Faraday Future, in spite of its public mishaps, does have an incredibly talented engineering team, and I wanted to see what their car could do, get a sense of what it’s like.
I rode in in two Faraday Future FF 91 prototypes: one was a gutted performance prototype, the other was a gutted self-parking prototype.
To anyone who has been in a high-performance electric car before (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been in a Tesla P-whatever-D), the FF 91's performance is remarkable if somewhat expected. However a Tesla surprises you with its speed from a standstill, or its low-center-of-gravity composure in a turn, the FF 91 acts much the same only faster. The added horsepower makes the car accelerate faster. The four-wheel steering makes the car turn flatter.
As Faraday Future’s Vice President of propulsion engineering, Pete Savagian, explained to me after the ride, “the electric car, that’s probably the easiest part.” The thousand horsepower, everything, it pales in comparison to designing the car’s internet connectivity and self-driving technologies. “The full integration,” Savagian offered. “That’s the challenge.”
All four wheels spin on the launch. I said that, right? I keep thinking about it, a week later.
Also, the back seat of the FF 91 mule is extremely roomy. The legroom matches the super spacious Lucid Air prototype I had ridden in the day before, though the Lucid car felt like it had a much lower floor than the FF 91. Faraday Future uses a more modular, pancake-style battery pack than Lucid.
FF’s system allows for the company to take out strings of batteries and shorten up the car, but it costs some interior volume. Everything in the automotive engineering is a series of trade-offs, as I am coming to understand.
Faraday Future didn’t record any video of me getting a ride in the self-parking prototype and I wasn’t able to bring a video guy along for the event, so I’ll just have to describe to you that the FF 91 in its hunt-for-a-parking-spot valet mode was slow but successful. Hong Bae, the head of Faraday Future’s self-driving team, explained to me later that this slowness is by design.
Remember, Faraday Future wants the FF 91 to be able to park itself in a lot without a human even in the car, so the car has to be absolutely certain it’s not going to run over a kid who runs into its path chasing a ball or something. The car moves slowly so that there are fewer fast surprises.
Mostly it was cool to see the car’s LIDAR in action. LIDAR is one of the critical technologies that separates the self-driving cars of tomorrow from the assisted-driving cars of today. It’s a laser-based kind of radar system, the spinning turret things you’re used to seeing on top of Google’s Lexuses. On the FF 91, it sprouts forth from the car’s hood like a short periscope, or the eye from the trash monster in Star Wars.
It gives the car an extremely clear view of its surroundings in 3D, and Faraday Future had a tablet mounted between the front seats that displayed what the car’s electronic eye was seeing.
After some cajoling, Faraday Future let me take the above picture of this readout. In the top-down view at the top of the screen, you can see how the car is able to see all obstacles in its path as single points: a car in a parking spot, a curb, an engineer standing by another car saving a space.
In the full view at the bottom of the screen, you can see the full world around the car in three dimensions, color coded for height. Particularly cool was how the car could see the palm trees across the street from the parking lot, red tops fading down to purple bases.
It’s not the most advanced LIDAR readout I’ve ever seen, but most other systems have multiple spinning sensors that add a lot of cost to a car and add a lot of big, ugly visual bulk. Faraday Future considered adding more sensors to their car, but instead to go with the simplest, most affordable package they could use in order to help get the car close to production. It’s a very different mindset at Faraday Future, Hong Bae explained. Everything is geared towards getting the car into production, getting the car on sale. One LIDAR sensor will get them some self-driving ability, so Faraday Future will use it and go from there.
I myself would be terrified of putting the first self-driving car on sale. Even with redundant sensors, computers, and so on, it’s so easy to imagine a situation that goes beyond Faraday Future’s control and puts the company in a painfully bad position in the media. A car crashes into some FF 91's lane. Who knows.
As I’ve said before, FF’s tech seems solid and there are good, legitimate, smart people working there. Most of the company’s headaches have been on the business side. The car I rode in was impressive, but what will be even more impressive is if it will make it to mass production.