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The final countdown: Faraday Future's CEO tells us what comes next

Faraday Future has kept us waiting for nearly half a decade for its FF 91 EV. As the car company's self-imposed deadline approaches, CEO Carsten Breitfeld walks us through its steps.

Faraday Future CEO Carsten Breitfeld behind the wheel of the FF 91.

Faraday Future

"286 days," Faraday Future CEO Carsten Breitfeld told me when I spoke with him Friday. That's how long the company has to meet the July deadline for delivery of its first cars to customers. 

He can quote that figure from memory because he's had screens installed in every room in the company's headquarters. Each day, the number on those screens counts down by one. "We promised to deliver our first car within 12 months and we're going to make this happen," he said.

Breitfeld has to be forthright about deadlines because his company hasn't done a great job of hitting them in the past. That's led to a lot of well-founded skepticism about the company's ability to deliver... well, anything. It's been almost five years since I got my first ride in an FF 91. In that time the company's production plans have been downsized significantly, while the initial goal of production in 2018 slipped again and again. I won't run through all the FF-related news items that have hit the wires since then, but suffice to say that most of them weren't good. 

They're made even worse by the leap forward the market has seen in that time. Back in 2017, an EV with over 1,000 horsepower and a range of 378 miles was amazing. Today? The Tesla Model S Plaid offers more range and comparable power, while the Lucid Air has even more power and up to 520 miles of range. 

If that weren't enough, you have entries on the market like the astonishingly comfortable and luxurious Mercedes-Benz EQS and the lovely, fun and practical Porsche Taycan. Those green fields Faraday Future targeted half a decade ago? Today they look pretty well sowed. 

So how has the FF 91 progressed to keep up? "The product was so visionary years ago that we don't need to change much," Breitfeld told me, but went on to tease some "improvements" made to the battery design (details to come), along with numerous upgrades on the infotainment side. "We've installed way more computing power," he said, ensuring the car can be a "smart device on wheels" -- a similar catchphrase to that used by Byton along its own fateful and meandering drive to the US market.

So, then, what will be the FF 91's unique selling point in the 2022 model year market? Two things, Breitfeld told me. First, performance: "If you look to the overall power, the acceleration, we are leading or at least one of the leaders."

Not so unique, then. The other point? "Every seat is a great seat," he said. Breitfeld went on to recount his recent long-range trip in the back of an FF 91, cruising along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, staying productive between charging stops thanks to the car's integrated videoconferencing and 27-inch rear-seat infotainment system.

Fully reclining rear seats also take advantage of the 91's massive amount of legroom, creating what indeed does look like a unique -- and comfortable -- selling point. However, unless you're lucky enough to have a chauffeur on the payroll, it's hard to get too excited about that.

ff-91-rt-66

By all accounts, the FF 91 is shaping up to be a great car to be driven in.

Faraday Future

And a chauffeur will be mandatory, because the FF 91's once-lauded autonomy functionality has been relegated to some far-future date. "Our strategy is to put all the sensor technology that may be needed for real autonomy into the car," Breitfeld told me. At launch, however, the FF 91 will fall in the "Level 2 plus" category, much like the Autopilots and Super Cruises of the world. 

Full autonomy, Breitfeld said, will likely come as part of some partnership or government mandate. "There's just no way to develop such a system by ourselves completely and it doesn't make sense. I assume if this ever happens then it will be a highly regulated technology." In other words, don't expect autonomy until it's table stakes. 

So, then, this could be the ultimate EV to be chauffeured in. That's an admittedly rare proposition, but only those on the sweet side of the 1% will even consider an FF 91. While long-range EVs are rapidly approaching attainable prices, the "ultra-luxury" FF 91 will cost around $250,000 at first. That's about twice the price of a Model S Plaid and only slightly less than double that of a Lucid Air Dream Edition. 

The initial FF 91 production plans are logically and necessarily limited, then. Given the size of the factory and that niche appeal, Faraday Future hopes to build 2,400 cars in the first nine months of production, with a very slow initial ramp. Eventually, Breitfeld said, the company can produce up to 10,000 cars annually at its Hanford, California, facility.

There's more to come. In about 18 months, Faraday Future will launch the smaller, more affordable FF 81. That car will eventually drive the company to a production volume of 100,000 units per year. "We are going to be cash flow positive after three years," Breitfeld told me. Somewhere around year five, a third model will debut, and the company is also working on a last-mile delivery van on the FF 91 platform, partnering with a "big player" in the online retail space.

For now, though, the focus remains on the consumer market. Breitfeld is adamant that, post-IPO, the company has all the funding it needs to get to production and that its factory is nearly there. He also believes that, with increased talk of banning cars with internal combustion engines in 2030, the market for EVs is set to explode. 

"If this happens," he said, "then the whole thing will change dramatically. Not in nine years from now, but next year. People who consider to buy a new car next year, they will carefully think about what they are doing ... Are they going to buy the last of its kind? Or are they stretching to the future?"

Fingers crossed.

Faraday Future

Finally, I had to ask Breitfeld about his former employer, BMW. He formerly led the team that gave the world the i8 in 2014, a program that seemed on the verge of delivering a string of excellent electric and electrified cars. Then BMW hit the pause button, and Breitfeld left to launch Byton. Only recently did BMW get back into the swing of things, with the upcoming i4 and iX

"When I left [BMW] back then, this was a consequence out of the fact that the company stepped on the brake," he said. "I think this was kind of a mistake back then, but now things are changing. Everyone realizes that the visionary past we were working back then was maybe the right one. Now the world is changing. ... In German we have a saying, 'Better late than never.'"

We have that saying in the US, too, a phrase that hopefully we'll all be applying to the FF 91 in 282 days or so.