Faraday Future is still on the ropes, but it's not out yet
The company hopes the addition of a new CEO will bring new investment and a start of production for its long-awaited flagship model.
We've covered Faraday Future and its many, many troubles over the last few years with a fair amount of cynicism, and that's been true for the majority of the automotive industry. Despite the wild feast-or-famine financials of the company, it's managed to soldier on, barely.
Now, with new CEO Carsten Breitfeld, lately of Byton and
before that, it's hoping it can find a way to firmer ground, and to show the world how different things are, it invited the media into its Gardena, California, headquarters.
So, how exactly is the company doing these days? Better, it seems, than it was a few months ago. The addition of a mostly proven CEO like Breitfeld appears to have energized people, and so has his focus on having the long-long-long-awaited FF91 in production and on the market by September 2020.
How does he plan on doing that? I mean, it wasn't long ago that Faraday was being swarmed by angry, unpaid vendors and locked in a vicious battle with its chief investor, and you can't build cars without either parts or money. With the vendors, Faraday did something unusual to help smooth things over.
It created a trust that it asked its vendors to be a part of. In exchange for joining the trust and agreeing to supply Faraday, the company would securitize its sales with FF's own assets. Is this a risky move for the struggling EV startup? Yeah, but it's likely easier to get investment money if you're able to produce your product.
Speaking of investment money, during a Q&A session Breitfeld spoke excitedly about investment partners from both the automotive and tech worlds being willing to come to the table and talk now that he's involved, though he admitted that nothing had been signed or finalized yet.
One thing that I found surprising was how relatively complete the FF91 "gamma" preproduction cars seemed. They didn't feel anywhere near the level of quality, fit or finish of the FF91's targeted competition, the
, but they were impressive given the troubles the company has experienced.
We've seen the FF91 in several stages; in the most current version the interior design and materials have been finalized, and while the exterior design leaves plenty of room for debate, the interior is one of the better implementations of the modern "screens everywhere" trend. The rear seats take inspiration from high-end airplane seating and vehicles like the Mercedes-Maybach, adding features like a Spa Mode.
We were also shown a tech demo for the brand's in-house Android-based UI/UX. Unfortunately, our demo was buggy, but that seemed to be due to a spotty internet connection -- other groups had fewer issues.
The system had a ton of interesting capabilities, like the ability to use natural speech to make compound queries. For example, you could ask it to find you a coffee shop with outdoor seating, parking and at least a three-star rating on Yelp and the system should sort that out.
Other features include face recognition inside the vehicle, which would, in theory, allow the car to set a unique environment for each seat based on each occupant's preferences and apps. It's a neat idea, especially for a vehicle that would be used in ride-hailing.
The system also promises to be an open one, with support for tons of apps from third parties as well as through Faraday. That plays into the company's strategy for monetization in the future, which bears similarities to founder Jia Yueting's other company, Le.com. This involves selling a product at a minimal profit but requiring subscriptions to use the product, which then becomes the primary revenue source.
While the FF91 is the car they've been talking about for years, it's the next planned vehicle that's more interesting to us. The FF81 features a similar look to the massive 91, only scaled down to more reasonable proportions. The folks from Faraday also plan to sell it at a much more palatable price, aiming for similar money to the
Tesla Model X
. It will be based on the same platform architecture as the FF91 but, again, scaled down somewhat. The company hopes to put this into production in 2022.
Beyond that, there are plans for an FF71 that will serve as the volume model and which will be built on a new platform that will be called (rather unimaginatively) Variable Platform Architecture 2.0, which is currently early in development.
While it's easy to continue to dismiss Faraday as a cautionary tale for other, more established manufacturers to heed, the company still seems to have a chance at success -- albeit a narrow one.
The company is still in serious need of money, and while having settled previous disagreements with vendors and its primary investor Evergrande will help to ease potential investors' concerns, a lot is riding on Breitfeld and his ability to bring big money to the table and convince it that Faraday can succeed.