LAS VEGAS — Faraday Future, one of the most hyped tech companies before this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, is still likely to be watched closely even after the show.
Faraday Future (FF) came to Las Vegas to formerly introduce itself. The company’s avowed mission is to design in Los Angeles and manufacture in North Las Vegas “better, cleaner and connected electric cars.”
Nick Sampson, FF’s senior vice president and head of product development, stressed that FF, which he calls a tech — not an automobile — company, will act on its plan “with an amazing team, transformative vision and alliances.” More important, FF is promising to proceed with development at a speed “that’s decisively fast” — faster than Tesla.
FF took the wraps off its concept car, the FFZero1, an Internet-connected 1,000-horsepower EV, on Monday (January 4) in Las Vegas. The unveiling was harder to get into than Club 54 and not even easy to find. The company never publicly revealed the location, although it had been teasing the event on its website since late last year with a countdown clock.
The FFZero1 looks like a one-seat race car whose design is both futuristic and oddly retro — with shades of Lotus Fords and vintage ‘Vettes.
Since the FFZero1 is a “concept car,” most likely it will never get produced, and it won’t resemble FF’s first commercial product, when the company is ready to roll it out in a few years, explained Mark C. Boyadjis, senior analyst & manager, infotainment & HMI at IHS Automotive.
Fittingly for the CES crowd, though, the FFZero1 appears to be just a sort of the car that can attract fans, geeks and technology experts.
But the most important thing to remember is that the FFZero1 is what Alfred Hitchcock called a maguffin, the shiny diversion that drives the story and keeps the audience’s attention.
The concept car is built on the company’s “variable platform architecture (VPA).” Richard Kim, head of global design at FF, explained that VPA would allow FF to use the same underlying structure on all its vehicles, adapting it to include anywhere from one to four motors, battery packs of various sizes, different types of wheelbases and other options.
In essence, the promise of VPA is that a range of models — very different from the FFZero1 — could be rolled out in a relatively short span.
But aren’t other automotive companies already using a similar platform-based approach to design different models more economically? Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst at IHS Automotive, said, “Yes, to some extent, car companies are moving toward that direction, because it allows you to scale.”
But especially for electric vehicles, FF’s VPA does make sense, said Carlson, because bigger EVs, for example, need more battery space. With VPA, FF can supposedly design a variety of EVs with different battery and motor configurations.
How does FF’s VPA, for example, differ from Tesla’s VPA (assuming Tesla has its own platform)?
The answer isn’t clear. Throughout the event, FF stuck to its talking points on “design, idea, and vision,” said Carlson. FF might be forgiven for that. After all, this was an event designed to introduce the company. But FF offered “zero talk on any figures or numbers” associated with its vehicles, or details of any underlying technology, Carlson added.
Meanwhile, there was a lot of name-dropping, when Sampson talked about FF’s “amazing team.” Obviously, FF was able to pull in talent from Audi, BMW, Boeing, Apple, Jaguar, Tesla and a lot of former NHTSA officials. It does suggest that FF is “a tech company with automotive experience in its DNA,” observed Carlson.
Among the odds and ends FF shared during the announcement were a helmet that provides oxygen and water to the driver, and “Aero tunnels” that channel air through the vehicle to reduce drag and cool the batteries.
FF’s Kim also talked about a multi-touch screen interface “that does swipes and pinches,” and an augmented reality (AR) view projected onto the road ahead “as a co-pilot.” In short, this is “an extreme tablet on wheels,” he noted.
FF also showed a picture of a steering wheel that allows a smartphone to be plugged in, to provide navigation and other information.
Is it realistic? “Using a smartphone inside a car and offering a cradle for it might be a good idea, but no phone docking station should belong to the steering wheel, said IHS Automotive’s Boyadjis. “That’s where an airbag pops up.”
FF’s connection with China’s LeTV is intriguing to many observers. Aside from bankrolling FF, LeTV appears to be interested in streaming the company’s Internet TV content to a self-driving car of the future, Boyadijis observed.
But as far as the FFZero1 is concerned, it looked like a car that a driver would enjoy driving — far from a self-driving car in which a driver watches movies.
In the following pages, EE Times shares how FF unveiled itself and its baby in Las Vegas on Monday.
To see the slideshow, visit EBN sister site EE Times.