A better car for a better world.
At CES 2016, startup car manufacturer Faraday Future took to the stage to unveil their fully-electric FFZERO1 concept car. The FFZERO1 isn't a production car; it's far from it. Instead, this race car is a proof of concept for Faraday Future's variable architecture platform and a preview of the company's design language and future production vehicles.
Nick Sampson, Faraday Future's SVP of Research & Development and Product Development, described the company's premise as working more like a technology firm than a traditional automotive company, and that means that they move fast. Faraday Future was founded just 18 months ago and is aiming to have their first production vehicles in customers hands in the next few years. Sampson comes to Faraday with many years of experience, having worked in the late-80's turnaround of Jaguar and working at Tesla in the development of the lauded Model S and X.
And while Faraday Future is almost explicitly positioning themselves to take on Tesla, they're quick to point out that the electric car industry as we know it owes its existence to Tesla and Elon Musk. As such, in their mere 18 months of existence Faraday has brought employees from Tesla, as well as BMW, Apple, NASA, Ford, and even the NHTSA. In total their headcount has swelled to more than 700. Faraday's also building a huge 3-million-square-foot billion-dollar manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas, complete with a full solar roof.
Additionally, they're partnering with Chinese tech firm LeTV to bring internet connectivity into the car. Despite bringing LeTV cofounder Ding Lei onto the stage to discuss his years in the Chinese auto industry and how he'd like to atone for putting so many polluting cars on the road, Faraday was quite light on what LeTV is actually bringing to the table. Well, aside from bringing access and prestige in China through their partnership, a deliberate, if subtle, dig at rival Tesla's difficulties in gaining access to the Chinese market.
But back to the car. Richard Kim, Faraday's Head of Global Design and a former BMW designer where he was the lead designer for the i3 and i8 electric cars, described the company's new Variable Platform Architecture system as a fully modular and expandable platform for building a wide variety of cars. The platform supports one, two, or three motor configurations (or even a fourth motor with some alterations) and two-wheel-front, two-wheel-rear, and all-wheel drive.
The FFZERO1 is best described as Tron meets Tim Burton Batmobile meets Apple.
The expandable architecture also extends to the battery. Like Tesla, the battery pack is slung low under the body, but unlike Tesla the battery pack is actually a set of packs, which can be added to or removed from based on the needs and size of the vehicle. And if one row of the battery fails, it's just bypassed until it's individually replaced. Kim says the platform can support any type of car they'd like to build, from a small coupe to a full-size SUV.
The FFZERO1 concept car is said to be built on this architecture, though what we saw at the press event was a stationary vehicle on the stage. The FFZERO1 is not a production car by any stretch — it's a showcase of the technology and design language that Faraday intends to implement, from the clean white interior to the multi-touch augmented reality interface to the smartphone docked in the steering wheel to the two-finish matte/gloss exterior with a "UFO" character line that will apparently be a signature design element for future Faraday cars. Faraday's even designed a prototype helmet that will hook up to the car and deliver oxygen and water to the driver.
It is, to say, an insane car. It's not one that moved at all during the presentation, and we weren't permitted to get up close or see inside. And there's a lot we don't yet know about Faraday's vehicles: when we can expect them to launch, what a real car will look like (the FFZERO1 is best described as Tron meets Tim Burton Batmobile meets Apple), what kind of range we should expect, and how much these cars will cost. Or even how you get into the FFZERO1. The only real spec they offered was the horsepower, and even then it was a theoretical "up to 1,000hp."
There's a lot we don't yet know about Faraday's vehicles, like launch timing, production car appearances, range expectations, or even cost.
It's worth noting that Tesla's first car — the Tesla Roadster — was built on the platform of the Lotus Elise and cost well over $100,000. It was a test platform for their electric car system and a way to get cars to customers and money into the company coffers. But Tesla has proven themselves, and kept quiet and downplayed expectations until they had managed to prove themselves.
The hype surrounding Faraday Future, on the other hand, has been extreme, and Faraday has clearly bought into it. The FFZERO1 is a showcase vehicle, but is also entirely and completely impractical for any real life use. It's overdesigned and overengineered and overhyped, and while Faraday has successfully moved fast through its short history, it's set seriously high expectations for what we should expect from them in the future. Only time will tell if they can live up to the hype.