Everything wrong with Faraday Future’s “Tesla killer”

This much-hyped automotive startup claims to have invented a Tesla Killer: a self-driving electric vehicle that performs like a supercar. The company claims the car has a sixth sense for the driver’s intentions and needs, that it has a revolutionary battery, and that its interior defies gravity with zero-g seats. But one thing its first car didn’t do when revealed at a demonstration in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics trade show was actually work. “Press the button, and it will find its way to the garage.” “Okay!” “It seems like it’s a little bit lazy tonight.” After moving on for a bit, Nick Sampson, product architect for the company, came up with a fun spin for the failed demo. “Our car was a little bashful this evening.” “The limelight was perhaps a little too much, so let’s just mind out and” “let the lights dim, and see if she’ll then become a little more brave.” And when the lights dim, a person cloaked in shadow slips inside the car. And after a very suspenseful delay, the mysterious phantom of the keynote manages to get the car moving across the stage. The company is called Faraday Future. It’s asking prospective buyers to put up $5,000 to reserve what it calls the FF91. But before you take out your checkbook, just… stop. Because giving them any money would be a really, really bad idea. Faraday Future started its press conference by recapping some of its greatest accomplishments so far. “We’ve grown to over 1,400 employees globally from over 36 countries.” While the company did manage to poach talent from Tesla, Google, and legacy car manufacturers, it’s not doing a great job helping those people actually make things. According to The Guardian, Faraday Future was supposed to unveil a working prototype at the CES trade show last year but failed. The company then decided to show a race car instead but failed. Finally, it refocused on making a concept car — one that didn’t move or function or really represent anything remotely real. Still, Sampson is convinced the company has a great corporate culture. “We’re unencumbered by corporate history.” “We’re not beholden to a rigid chain of command or stifling bureaucracy.” Faraday Future pitches itself as an independent, American startup from Silicon Valley. But when it first arrived on the scene a few years ago, people were hard-pressed to find founders listed anywhere. Or a CEO. All the mystery around the company caused some to speculate that it was a front for Apple’s secretive car-building effort. But The Guardian reported that Faraday Future was actually formed in April of 2014 by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, chairman and founder of LeEco, parent company of LeTV, the Netflix of China. Faraday Future calls LeEco a “strategic partner,” but it’s become clear that it’s much more than that. LeEco executive Ding Lei was eventually named Faraday Future’s “acting global CEO,” and LeEco founder Jia Yueting seems to ultimately be in control. And according to The Guardian, which spoke to former executives at Faraday Future, the American and Chinese teams clashed from the beginning. At one point, LeTV tried to change the name to Fara Faro instead of Faraday Future. An executive from the company told The Guardian: And if the day-to-day is anything like what’s portrayed in this LeEco video leaked to Jalopnik, the corporate culture is pretty chill. But Sampson pitches the team as a wild group of innovative renegades. “Faraday Future is not playing it safe.” “We’re not conservative.” “We’re not predictable.” But the company is pretty predictable. Instead of naming its electric car company after Nikola Tesla, a scientist famous for his work with electric motor technology, it named its company after Michael Faraday, a scientist famous for laying the foundation for electric motor technology. And instead of building a billion dollar factory in Nevada like Tesla — “I’d like to start off by just thanking the Nevada (stumbles) Nevada legislature.” — it struck a deal to build a billion dollar factory in Nevada like Tesla. “What would we be without the city of North Las Wegas — Vegas.” You get the idea. But, oh! Did Sampson mention that Faraday hired a bunch of people? “We have in Faraday a great team of game changers.” Here’s some of the top game changers it hired: The VP of Regulatory Affairs at Tesla, the Finance Director of Qoros Automotive and veteran of Ford Motor Company, another person doing finance from Qoros and Ford, a veteran product manager from Jaguar and BMW, a communications manager from BMW, and a director of the Climate Action Champions program for the White House. Unfortunately, all of those people left Faraday Future between July and October, starting with the two in the finance department. Oh, and Faraday Future’s acting global CEO Ding Lei? He left both Faraday Future and LeEco just days before this disastrous press conference. But Faraday Future has more than just people; it has patents! “We filed almost two hundred — two thousand patents globally for both vehicle” “and internet of vehicle innovations.” Though, according to a report by The Verge, Faraday Future has a separate company called FF Cayman Global in the Cayman Islands that holds all of its intellectual property. One ex-executive told The Verge: But despite burning money and losing talent and scaring away future investors and not actually shipping a product, the car manufacturer claims to be making progress. “One of the recent achievements is we’ve completed phase one” “of our Nevada factory development.” Except despite being offered over $300 million in incentives from Nevada to build its factory, Faraday Future suspended construction due to financial issues. A Faraday spokesperson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in November: Automotive News also obtained a copy of a letter from AECOM, a company hired to do $500 million worth of construction for Faraday Future, stating that the company failed to pay the $21 million deposit due in September. But Sampson says it’s moving along. “We’re very excited that shortly we’ll be moving on to phase two of the construction.” It’s unclear what phase two is, but Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz seems to think real progress is unlikely. He told Buzzfeed News that the company agreed to regular phone calls with his office, but those stopped in November. Still, the car looks really impressive on paper. “FF91 is in a class of its own and has the most comprehensive sensor system” “of any production vehicle today.” This could be true, if the FF91 were, you know, in production. But it’s not. The company doesn’t even have a proper facility to produce them in. And despite not having an operational factory to make batteries in like Tesla does, it still claims its batteries are the best. “Our battery technology is unprecedented” “and offers drivers a vehicle that doesn’t require any kind of sacrifice.” This is possible, but the future of battery innovation at Faraday Future seems to be up in the air. Last January, Porter Harris, the chief battery architect, left the company. One ex-executive told The Guardian: But Faraday Future believes in its car. “Once again, let’s put our hands together for the new fastest production EV in the world.” And once again, this is not actually a production vehicle. “Well we’ve covered a lot of things this evening.” “The world’s most connected car, the smartest car you’ll ever experience,” “a car with the world’s greatest electric propulsion system,” “and the car that may not even be a car at all.” He’s actually right about this one. It may not even be a car at all. It might be vaporware. Though Sampson says otherwise. “I can say now, without a shadow of a doubt, despite all the naysayers, the skeptics,” “we will persist.” That confidence is unrelenting, but signs of financial collapse at Faraday Future and LeEco continue to pile up. A Faraday insider told The Financial Times: And it didn’t exactly go not-badly. “As a new baby, she’s often very, very timid.” Faraday Future broadcast the event live on YouTube, but hid the video shortly after by changing its visibility to “unlisted” and replacing it with a version that had the failed demo cut out. But the original recording had already broken into the top ten trending on YouTube, and clips of the onstage meltdown had been reposted by The Verge, Jalopnik, and others. This could be the last time we see this would-be Tesla competitor on stage. Its greatest accomplishments were having money and hiring people and both of those efforts seem to be falling apart. So, maybe don’t give them $5,000.