Google “Faraday Futures,” and you’ll find a host of different articles discussing the viability of the enigmatic startup electric car company which prefers to be called “FF.” Backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting (who owns what loosely translates to the Chinese version of YouTube) FF’s current list of employees includes head of design Richard Kim — who designed both the BMW i3 and the BMW i8 plug-in cars — and former Jaguar Land Rover and Tesla executive Nick Sampson.
Indeed, on paper, FF’s list of staff is an impressive who’s who mixing together automotive executives and engineers from a myriad of well-known automakers, former software engineers for Google and Apple, and talent acquired from FF’s main rival in Silicon valley, Tesla Motors.
Yet when FF held what was supposed to be its big reveal as both an automaker and a technological tour-de-force at this year’s CES in Las Vegas back in January, it only shared with the world an outlandish concept car which will likely never make it to production. Worse still, with a room full of increasingly irritated members of the international press, FF proceeded a smoke-and-mirrors show which promised so much but showed so little.
Since that reveal, even the state of Nevada has started to have second thoughts about the automaker it gladly approved more than $335 million in tax credits, abatements and incentives back in December. Prompted by worries over cashflow problems at LeTV, the company that made Yueting a billionaire, the state is now insisting that FF puts up some of its own cash as an insurance policy that it is serious about the $2 billion factory it has claimed it will build just north of Las Vegas. Add in claims from former FF executives that FF is a company in trouble whose first car will be “no Tesla killer,” and things are looking very bad indeed.
Still, there’s at least one thing going for FF: it has just obtained its first patent, something which the company proudly proclaimed yesterday on its minimalist media website.
The first of a claimed 100 or more patents it has submitted to the U.S. Trademarks and Patent office, FF’s first U.S. patent is for what it calls the “FF Echelon Inverter,” a brand-new type of high-power inverter which it claims will be at the heart of its future vehicles.
What’s an inverter? In lay terms, an inverter is the electronic device which takes DC power from an electric car battery pack and converts it into the three-phase alternating current needed to correctly power a modern AC electric motor. It’s also essentially the device that translates the position of the accelerator pedal into the right amount of power needed to drive the car forward at the correct speed. Push the accelerator to the floor, and the inverter delivers maximum power. Push it more gently, and the power circuitry inside the inverter will send just the right amount of power at just the right time to each part of the car’s electric motor to ensure a smooth, silky ride.
Those of a technical mind can read the official patent application here, but in its official press release, FF claims its new Echelon Inverter is smaller more powerful than its competitors. Moreover, it claims, there are no “off the shelf parts” used in the unit, something which perhaps is a dig at other automakers which do. (While we’ve got no proof either way, we’re pretty sure Tesla uses its own specially-designed inverter circuitry too, as do the majority of automakers who are making electric cars in any large volume).
The key to its design, says FF, is that it has “reduced mechanical complexity” of its power inverter by designing it from the ground up to be capable of dealing with high power currents. Traditionally, that has been achieved by using multiple identical power-driver circuits in parallel, each with their own power transistor circuitry. FF says that’s bad design that can lead to asynchronous power transfer between the different circuits (a posh way of saying the power traveling through each identical circuit may not be the same, ultimately leading to component wear and failure).
The result, it says is a new power inverter design which has a power density somewhere between 20 and 30 percent better than its nearest competitor. While Tesla isn’t mentioned by name, it’s clear that’s the company FF is aiming that comment at.
But there’s the thing. FF doesn’t mention just how much power its new Echelon Inverter can carry in terms of kilowatts. And while the patent and the press release uses the term ‘power’ on plenty of occasions and give relative figures to ‘the competition,’ there’s no yard stick given to measure that relative figure by, nor is there any empirical data suggesting just how much power the Echelon Inverter can manage.
We don’t have the technical acumen to confirm or dismiss FF’s claims, but based on what we know of electric vehicles after many years of driving, repairing and modifying them, we’re certainly skeptical.
At least until we’ve seen and experienced the new Echelon Inverter put to work in the car that FF claims it’s building — but hasn’t actually shared with anyone yet.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.