Faraday Future took the wraps off a long-awaited production car this week at CES in Las Vegas just as circumstances grow ever more challenging for the Los Angeles-based automotive startup backed by Chinese entrepreneur Jia Yueting.
The company showed off the FF 91 crossover-style car late Tuesday that it says combines supercar performance with ultra-luxury ride and comfort, has advanced web-enabled entertainment features for passengers and even parks itself in crowded lots using autonomous driving technology. It tested the latter feature before a live audience on Monday, as well as clocking its acceleration on stage against high-end luxury vehicles from Bentley, Ferrari and Tesla.
“The FF 91 will usher in a new age of connected vehicles,” Nick Sampson, the company’s senior vice president of engineering and R&D and a former Tesla engineer, said at the unveiling that was webcast, noting that interested buyers can reserve one at the company’s website with a $5,000 deposit.
The company isn’t yet providing pricing, though buyers can expect to pay at least $180,000 or more for an FF 91, or about double what a Tesla Model S costs, as it will be positioned to compete with very high-end luxury vehicles, according to Faraday Future. If all goes well, cars start shipping sometime in 2018.
Jia, who is also founder and CEO of LeEco, the so-called Netflix of China, joined Sampson and other Faraday executives at the Las Vegas event to mark the FF 91’s unveiling. “It is not only the quickest EV in the world, it’s packed with many unique innovations,” he said (though a second demonstration of the car’s self-parking feature by Jia and Sampson on stage didn’t go off as planned when the car failed to respond to a push-button command to move downstage on its own).
The debut comes as the fate of Faraday Future’s $1 billion, 3 million square foot factory in North Las Vegas, Nevada, remains in limbo and need for cash to produce its web-connected car grows.
Few industries are as challenging and expensive to break into as automotive, a lesson Tesla CEO Elon Musk took years to understand and still struggles with. Faraday Future styles itself as an “extreme” automotive technology challenger to Tesla, but is also in competition for attention and cash with nascent rivals including Silicon Valley-based Lucid Motors and China’s NIO, the former NextEV with a significant Silicon Valley presence, which are also touting plans for high-powered electric vehicles unlike any currently on the market, including Musk’s.
Faraday Future broke ground last year for its first factory, but construction firm AECOM halted work months later when Faraday Future wasn’t able to make payments. At a late December briefing at company headquarters in Gardena, California, a Los Angeles suburb, Dag Reckhorn, head of production for Faraday, said the company is working with AECOM and still hopes to begin production at the plant in 2018. Nevada has provided an incentive package worth as much as $320 million for the factory.
Work on that facility stopped shortly after Jia said in a letter to employees that LeEco was financially overstretched. Later in the month, he said additional financing worth $600 million had been arranged, without making specific mention of the status of Faraday Future. Curiously, LeEco has shown a prototype for its own electric sedan, the LeSee, with attributes similar to those touted by Faraday Future. Not surprisingly, Faraday Future designed it.
Given that the company is private, it doesn’t comment on financial matters, said Richard Otto, a Faraday Future spokesman.
“We are committed to creating what we believe to be one of the world’s most technologically advanced, game-changing electric vehicles,” Otto said. “We have invested over $600 million in bringing our vision to life and with a solid team of over 1,000 U.S. employees hard at work,” he added, prior to the CES debut.
Setting aside cash concerns, Faraday Future’s 90-minute Las Vegas press conference was packed with fascinating details.
For example, the FF 91’s battery pack holds a whopping 130-kilowatt hours of electricity and its front and rear motors produce 1,050 horsepower that allow it accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 2.39 seconds, according to the company. That’s faster than any electric vehicle, and pretty much any other car, on the market.
In terms of range, the FF 91 “can achieve in excess of 375 miles,” Peter Savigan, vice president of propulsion engineering and a former General Motors engineer, said at the company’s press conference. “You can go from LA to Silicon Valley with miles to spare.”
The low-slung wagon has unique exterior lighting that alerts those around it’s accelerating, braking or operating in autonomous mode. Inside, the car’s “zero-gravity” rear seats can fully recline for passenger comfort and large, flat video panels provide a range of music, video and web entertainment options, powered by Jia’s LeEco.
Faraday Future will have much more to say about the FF 91 and, presumably, its future in the weeks and months ahead, Sampson told his Las Vegas audience. He also acknowledged negative coverage the company has received in the past two months.
“Despite all skeptics and the naysayers, we will carry on, we will persist,” Sampson said.