Back in January, enigmatic electric car startup Faraday Future (also known as Faraday & Future or ‘FF’) held a special gala media event on an empty lot in the heart of Las Vegas.
Timed to coincide with the opening media day of CES 2016, FF’s media team did a great job in ensuring the world’s media was in attendence, from multinational broadcasters like the BBC through to smaller, niche outlets like Transport Evolved. There, with the eyes of the world watching, FF told us how it was like no other automaker out there. It eagerly proclaimed how its skateboard electric vehicle platform could be used to build many different electric car models in quick succession, slashing the usual automotive production development cycle.
And it showed us an outlandish single-seat concept car that will likely never make it into production, complete with augmented reality headset, oxygen supply for the driver, and plenty of other features we don’t quite understand. Other than the concept car, it had nothing tangible for the world’s media to experience. No car to sit in. No parts to examine — and not even a hint at what its first ‘revolutionary’ production vehicle would offer.
Not even a concept sketch.
As a consequence since then, we and plenty of news outlets out there have remained on the skeptical side of the tracks. We’ve begged FF to show us something that we could get excited about or at least use as proof that its grandiose claims had substance rather than wiff decidedly of smoke, mirrors, and long-winded self-congratulation.
To date, FF has kept mainstream media at arm’s length, its lack of communication doing little to improve its already tarnished reputation. But as we learned this week, it has begun to allow electric vehicle advocates and owners to tour its facility in an interesting PR effort that has our ears perked.
Most importantly, reports from those who have been invited to tour the facility hint that we may have been too eager to dismiss FF after its diabolical CES debut. And because we both like to tell things as we see them and pay attention to the facts presented us, we’re more than willing to revise our opinions when someone gives us compelling evidence to suggest we were wrong.
Transport Evolved reader, former owner of a BMW ActiveE and now owner of both a Tesla Roadster and Tesla Model S (and occasional Transport Evolved contributor) Dennis Pascual was one of those lucky enough to tour FF’s facility earlier this week. While he’s bound tightly by a mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement and unable to discuss much of what he saw, he reached out yesterday evening to share as much of he could of his own experiences.
As he details in his blog, Pascual made the trip this weekend as a guest of Dustin Batchelor, another EV advocate-cum-contributor who should be familiar to readers of this site. While Pascual is a Southern California resident and thus a local to FF’s Los Angeles headquarters, Batchelor (a Canadian from British Columbia) happened to be visiting family in Southern California and reached out to FF to see if he could visit the facility.
Surprisingly, FF said he could, and so the tour was born.
Batchelor has yet to write up his experiences, but Pascual’s account on his blog tells of a secretive yet industrious company working hard to bring its own vehicles to market. Moreover, the company is well-staffed, with an “energy in the air” as he walked through the FF’s headquarters.
“This same energy can be summed up as a ‘sense of urgency’ as these guys realize that they are looking to join a field that is dynamic and filled with awakening giants because of Tesla and its success,” he writes, noting that the building — and its claimed 700+ employees — need more parking. “I took the last space,” he told us earlier today in a private conversation.
Is there a car imminent? That’s a tough question to answer and one which Pascual can’t deal with directly because of his aforementioned NDA on condition of the tour. Confirming that he toured FF’s battery research area and some of the other top-secret areas at the facility, he tells of industrious work being undertaken on many different systems at once. This parallel development process also involves using vehicles from other well-known companies as ‘test mules’ to help the rapid prototyping and development cycle. At the same time, Pascual notes that there are also plenty of tarpaulin-covered vehicles in FF’s design studio, presumably in the pre-engineering stages of development.
From what we know of FF’s development cycle, this parallel development process should play to FF’s advantage: its vehicles are based on one simple chassis design which also includes the battery pack and drivetrain. Aside from making a few tweaks here and there you’d be forgiven for thinking FF shouldn’t have too much work once it has developed its single, scalable skateboard platform. Using that logic, it follows that FF should be able to develop the basic drivetrain system using test mules from other automakers, provided of course that the platform is flexible enough to accommodate whatever vehicle designs FF decides to put on top.
However, automotive development isn’t quite that cut and dry. While test mule prototypes are common in the automotive world — Nissan used several different vehicles as test mules for its LEAF electric hatchback before the final design had been finalized — it does suggest that FF is still some way from bringing a car to market.
It’s a question that Pascual hasn’t answered in his post either. While he mentions the large number of tarp-covered concept cars and large amounts of technology development stations and test mules — and hints that he saw prototypes of FF’s skateboard platform — there’s nothing yet to suggest that FF is a company Tesla or other automakers should worry about just yet.
That said, the number of people present, the urgency with which they were working, and the calibre of its staff clearly made an impression on the level-headed advocate, who notes in closing that FF “has lofty goals, but ones that would benefit EVeryone in the rEVolution should [it] execute on [its] goals.” Based on both our professional personal interactions with Pascual, we think it’s fair to note too that he’s not someone we perceive as being easily swayed.
While we’d like to see things with our own eyes before we make any sweeping judgements, his report certainly scores bonus-points for the media-shy startup in our eyes. With our good friend and Transport Evolved regular Chelsea Sexton due to make her own trip to FF later this week, we’ll be eager to compare both experiences to see just how FF measures up to other more established brands.
Which brings us to our conclusion: while admit that our past experiences with FF has left us a little jaded over its future prospects, this latest report from the company’s headquarters does suggest there’s more to FF than a bizarre concept car designed to wow Chinese investors. And once we’ve seen more evidence to suggest FF has the technical and business acumen to bring a new electric car to market, we’ll be there cheering it on.
But as we’ve said before however, there’s a massive difference between having an impressive office and having an impressive product. The two aren’t connected — and we’ve seen plenty of similarly impressive companies in the past fall by the wayside long before entering the market.
The proof with FF will certainly be in the pudding. And right now, that’s still being baked — and we don’t even know what kind of pudding it is. Until we taste that pudding (by driving a test mule or perhaps sitting in a prototype car) we owe it to ourselves and our readers to remain a little cautious and reserve judgement.
We await FF’s invitation with baited breath.
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