This time last year at CES 2016, California startup Faraday Future held its inaugural reveal event inside an erected marquee on an empty lot a stone’s throw from the main show floor. Amidst great pomp and circumstance — and after a 90-minute presentation in which Faraday Future executives managed to tell us little about the company’s market strategy or goals for the future or what made it different from the rest of the automotive world — Faraday Future unveiled the FF-Zero, an undrivable concept car that would never make it to production.
Last night, tucked away in a nondescript pavilion the size of a small aircraft hangar a half-hour drive from the main CES exhibition space, Faraday Future held a second gala event. But this time, it had a lot more to show us: a full-sized electric SUV packed to the brim with autonomous driving and connected technologies, a massive 130 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and an official 0-60 mph time of 2.39 seconds.
With erected grandstand seating area packed dignitaries, electric car fans, investors and Faraday Future staff, Faraday Future Executive Vice President of Engineering Nick Sampson opened the 90 minute presentation in which the senior Faraday Future team laid out their vision for the company’s first car: the FF91.
Designed around Faraday Future’s modular platform technology, the FF91’s specifications on paper read like those of a car gunning to beat Tesla in both the plug-in marketplace and the luxury vehicle segment. There’s a 130 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to best the 100 kWh range-topping battery found in the Tesla Model S P100D and Tesla Model X P100D. There’s a trio of electric motors providing a total of 783 kilowatts of power, a claimed “EPA adjusted” range of 378 miles, and an official 0-60 mph time of 2.39 seconds.
Add in ten different cameras at front and rear and thirteen different long and short range sensors — not to mention a retractable hood-mounted LIDAR stalk reminiscent of an Amazon Echo — and on paper, the FF91 certainly seems to have everything it needs to be successful. Described by Sampson as “the smartest car you’ll ever drive,” the FF91 has a plethora of on-board computer technology and includes twin data modems and WiFi hotspots as well as a keyless entry system that relies on identifying a driver via their mobile telephone.
There were plenty of buzz words thrown in too. “Social Media Connectivity,” “Personalization,” “Internet of Things,” “Machine Learning” and “Future Proof” all made their way into the presentation at least once.
So far, so good. And to prove to skeptical press that it was a real, working prototype that would be transitioning to a full production car in the next year or so, Faraday Future was ready with some live demonstrations.
First up, we were given an example of the car’s autonomous driving capabilities, with live video of former EV1 engineer and Faraday Future VP of Propulsion Engineering Peter Savagian demonstrating how the FF91 can drop off its driver and then find a place to park on its own. Reversing into the parking space rather than pulling in forwards, the FF91 prototype (Beta 01PERF) accomplished the job with ease.
Later on in the presentation, FF brought out the same cars (plus a Tesla Model S P100D) that it had raced against the FF91 a few weeks earlier, sending each up the make shift drag strip in turn to show how fast the FF91 was.
Sadly, there was no way for us to gauge official 0-60 mph times, but we can attest that the car used for the acceleration demonstration (wearing a black and white body wrap and a “Beta” designation on its rear door sill) was indeed quick. Given that it’s impossible to tell the difference in tenths of a second without some time of timing apparatus, we’re willing at this time to attest that it was as quick as the other cars on display.
Interestingly however — and this is something we’ve only realized by reviewing video of the reveal event from last night and comparing it to our own photographs taken at the reveal — the car which demonstrated the acceleration capabilities of the FF91 was a different car to the one used to demonstrate parking, wearing the designation ‘Beta02PERF’.
The final demonstration came when Faraday Future yet again attempted to demonstrate the FF91’s autonomous parking capabilities, this time on stage.
Driven on to the stage by Yueting Jia, founder and CEO of Chinese firm LeEco (Faraday Future’s main source of income and surrogate parent company) a third FF91 prototype pulled up. Parked close to the rear stage wall over the top of a foot-wide white line running across the central twenty feet or so of the stage, Yueting Jia (or JT Jia as he was introduced) exited the vehicle and, when instructed by Sampson to tell the car to go and park, pressed a touch screen embedded into the car’s A-pillar.
But rather than move, the car stayed put, something Sampson joked as the car having some “stage fright”.
There the car stayed during Yueting Jia’s speech, delivered in broken english, before finally receiving a minute or so of attention from a Faraday Future engineer when he had finished speaking. With the car presumably reset, the vehicle then moved forward twenty feet or so on its own, apparently following the white line, with the LIDAR system fully retracted.
Later, Faraday Future told journalists that the demonstration failed because of the structures of the building the event was held in, but we’ve got to admit to being a little suspicious of the explanation. Having talked about the on-board Lidar system earlier (and how it was integral to mapping new places) it seems that the demonstration failed for another reason.
Although the live stream was broadcast in its entirety with the parking malfunction included, FF would later remove the offending incident, delisting the live stream and replacing it with a heavily-edited version.
And this brings us to our overall impression of the event — and the reason for our choice of headline. Yesterday’s reveal event was certainly streets ahead of the event we attended a year ago. The three prototypes we saw did indeed move and, from a distance, seemed commensurate with a beta-stage prototype vehicle. The interior, visible for a few seconds when the FF91’s coach doors opened, seems spacious enough, with seating for four and fully-reclining rear seats that have clearly been designed with the Chinese upper middle class in mind. Touches like all-round smart glass (which dims at the touch of a button), adaptable rear view mirrors (which will start with glass but transition to cameras when regulatory approval is given) and 200 kW “standard agnostic” DC quick charging (which FF incorrectly identified as the most powerful charging system of any car in the world) make the FF91 feel enticing.
But despite all this, something was terribly wrong with the FF91 and the reveal event itself. Journalists and VIP guests were segregated from one another, and we witnesses several members of the press being given a hard time by the hired security staff for trying to get a clear, unobstructed view of the vehicle to take a short video or few photographs. Indeed, we found ourselves arguing several times with security over colleagues who simply wanted to stand in a particular place for a few seconds to get a clearer shot of the stage in front of us.
Then there was the unashamed, overexhubarant cheering and wolf-whistles from attendees standing trackside. Applauding, cheering, shouting and whistling at every opportunity, the reaction from the front row gave the whole event the air of a Donald Trump rally. Genuine applause is one thing, but cheering in a way that made Apple or Tesla fanboys look timid at each and every detail of the FF91 — especially when they were not ground-breaking or Industry firsts — reminded us that this event was put on as much for investors in China as it was for those in attendance at CES.
That’s before we mention the glossing over of the financial problems that Faraday Future has suffered of late, including the halting of work at the North Las Vegas site where the company is building its massive production facility. Rather than address some of the challenges it has faced to this point, Faraday Future presented a montage of various heavy machinery moving around the construction site before announcing that “phase one” of the construction process (ground work) had been completed. This flies in the face of reports that say work has stopped at the facility due to a string of unpaid bills and lawsuits.
Let’s not forget too the failure of FF or its executives to publicly detail pricing for the FF91. The first production model, one of a limited-production of 300 “Alliance Edition” models, will be auctioned off in March next year. Customers can reserve a car from today with a $5,000 deposit, and production will start (says FF) in 2018. But there was no mention of price. Several sources told us that pricing will lay somewhere in the $90,000 to $150,000 price range and that final pricing will be “upwards of a Tesla,” but officially, FF remains quiet.
But perhaps the biggest thing that made us think we were at a Trump rally was the fact that off stage, answers were vague and not forthcoming. Only a few, carefully-selected guests were offered a ride in the beta prototypes. There was none of the usual auto industry media mobbing of the prototype after the presentation, and there were strictly no up-close-and-personal photographs possible of the car. And when we asked, staff looked uneasy and apologized, clearly conflicted between what they knew was expected and what was being offered.
In the end, the closest we got to an FF91 all night was the chassis left out in the lobby area ahead of the presentation. Obviously hand-made (the inner wheel arches were shaped rather than pressed metal) there was little to see save for the riveted construction and tubular chassis rails protruding from either end of the car, its triple-motor setup, and a windowed battery pack in the car’s floor.
Will Faraday Future bring the FF91 to market?
“This is a car which may not even be a car,” Sampson said in his closing comments, meaning that Faraday Future hopes the FF91 will be more than just a car, becoming a third space for customers, integrating with the Internet of things, and becoming an extension of both our living spaces and our online existence.
But based on what we’ve seen — or not seen — we think his words may herald a far more likely outcome. We’d love Faraday Future to succeed, but given the company’s already turbulent history and its unwillingness to address some major concerns over its financial stability, we’re doubtful that the FF91 will be anything other than stillborn.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.