The Verge scored a tour of the Faraday Future Los Angeles headquarters and was able to lift the shroud of secrecy that has kept Faraday Future’s plans such a secret. While there, the Verge interviewed Faraday Futures Senior VP Nick Sampson and Head of Design Richard Kim — who also led the design of the revolutionary EV that is the BMW i3 and the hot BMW i8. We have dug deep on Faraday Future’s every announcement to date and have been keeping an eye out for the first tangible evidence that the company is ready to change the world as we know it. This latest reveal offers some insight into Faraday Future’s angle on the auto industry and the unique approach to design that’s being taken.
It is evident that Faraday Future is trying to change the game and is doing so by leveraging several key strategic advantages: Technology, Design, and Innovation. Before we dig into those, let’s take a look at where the company is coming from. Faraday Future was funded by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting (who we profiled back in December 2014) using personal cash that he pulled from his very successful Chinese tech company LeTV. From our earlier profile, we shared that Bloomberg News quoted Jia Yueting as saying “This is our dream and passion…. Look at China’s skies, all responsible corporate citizens want to do something about it. This is the truth.” In our profile (which was almost a year ago), we shared that he is passionate about zero-emissions vehicles and wants them to be very well connected.
Pulling those sentiments forward to today, we can see the strong technology link between the original vision and what Senior VP Nick Sampson said about the shared vision of a car that will “turn up when you need it” and you can even “pre-book on your phone.” Taking that a step further, the goal is to build a car that is the healthy marriage of intuitive smartphone service Google Now — that uses its knowledge of your full schedule, current location, past habit, email history, and blood sugar levels (okay, maybe not that last one) — and a next-generation electric car.
For instance, it might know that every Wednesday at 6:30 pm you go to your bunko group down at the community center, then pull up the travel times and even remind you to leave at the appropriate time. Applying this type of intuitive logic to what sounds like the carsharing service vision of Faraday Future makes a lot of sense. Nick added, “it will know you’re going to need it because you’re scheduled to go somewhere,” which is essentially what Google Now does… FF just adds on the actual ordering of the car (and the car itself!) to the picture.
Faraday Futures plans do not stop there, however, going so far as to look for the preferred music of all passengers, finding and playing commonalities, or basing new recommendations based on commonalities. This speaks largely to LeTVs expertise as an intuitive media vendor and might even speak to a possible partnership between the two or maybe a new business arm for Faraday Future. The car will also look for nearby attractions and restaurants that might appeal to the occupants and make recommendations accordingly. FF is essentially trying to build the future that was promised to us in Gattaca, Minority Report, Blade Runner, and many, many more Hollywood movies… today. Sounds great to me, but if it were as easy as creating a business using movies as inputs, I’m sure there would be a lot more competition in the space already.
To raise the bar even further, Nick talked about how some FF cars would have single owners but that the vision is that many cars would be used in more of a carsharing model. Again, this makes a lot of sense based on the tech vision, but leaves several questions — will FF own all the cars and just rent them out to a carsharing service? Will part of FFs business be a carsharing service competing directly with the likes of Uber and Lyft? So many questions left to be answered, and we will keep our eyes peeled for updates over the next few weeks.
On top of these stretching technology goals, Faraday Future is actually going to build a new electric car. With the tall technology order, this seems like stacking dominos two layers high with both a challenging technology goal and a challenging goal of building a car which requires even more capital on the front end to get off the ground. On that front, Faraday Future already has test mules out driving around in California, though no detail about what developmental stage the cars are at was shared. It is possible that FF is just testing the technology and logic on the roads, or the cars may be actual ground-up prototypes, but the fact that cars are on the street for testing in some form is a step in the right direction nonetheless.
Faraday Future is taking a new approach to vehicle design in several areas, first and foremost of which is that FF is designing the car from the inside out. With FFs tech-centric background and heavy focus on developing technology that knows what you want before you know what you want it, starting with the driver/passenger makes a lot of sense. If users do not own the car and only interact with it for a few minutes while on the way to the destination, will passengers care what it looks like on the outside? It won’t need to look good in the driveway out front of your house, it won’t need to impress the boss when you roll up to work or even to the front door to pick up a date… as long as the insides are functional and meet the need, that should be the top priority. Of course, I would expect the outside to still be attractive… but it definitely does not need to be the most important feature.
Marrying tech and design, the new startup is leveraging virtual reality and augmented reality solutions to design cars. The interview specifically mentions the use of Facebook-owned Oculus, which appears to be at the forefront of virtual- and augmented-reality hardware and software solutions. Richard Kim shared that these solutions allow FF to move much faster than conventional auto companies that create clay molds, then hard models, and are forced to re-create these for each design iteration. On the flip side, FF believes it can move through the design process in as little as ⅓ of the time that it used to take, which not only improves speed to market but also saves tons of cash.
Building on the image of Faraday Future as the next big thing, Nick Sampson (who used to work at Tesla) boldly stated, “we’re creating an environment that’s even more creative [than Tesla].” I love that he is bold in the approach to the industry but still do not see why EV and PHEV manufacturers feel the need to compete with each other at this point in the game. With EVs representing such a low percentage of the market today, the real competition… or, rather, the real market to steal buyers from… is gas vehicles. I agree that someone considering a Tesla might also consider a Faraday Future vehicle when it is available, but with both being production constrained for the foreseeable future, it seems silly to talk about being Tesla’s first competition when both companies are on a mission to steal internal combustion car buyers from GM, Buick, Lincoln, Audi, VW, etc.
Interestingly, Nick also stated that he does not view Apple and Google efforts to build an EV as competition, but rather, as allies. This could hint that Faraday Future is or hopes to partner with Apple and Google (as smartphone/mobile operating system developers) to integrate with Apple’s/Google’s massive data resources or possibly even to be the hardware end of a software solution, but either way, it is an interesting statement. I’m eager to learn more about the details of these “alliances” as they take shape. Will Android Auto be the software run by a Faraday Future vehicle in the near future? Will FF license cars to Apple to bring a shred of truth to all the rumors of FF being a front for Apple’s EV efforts? Time will tell, but I can tell you one thing — I won’t be holding my breath. This is a long-term business and no matter how quick FF wants to be, designing and building the next generation of EV while also building a completely new user experience takes time and money… lots of money.
This update definitely takes Faraday Future squarely out of the vaporware category, though I personally want to see a few concepts “in the flesh” before I’ll give them the title of car company. I hope Faraday Future realizes that Tesla is not the competition, but that Tesla is also a partner in combatting personal transportation emissions coming from the current fleet of internal combustion vehicles. Along these lines, I’ll be on the lookout to see if FF will be utilizing any of Teslas patents. I expect this to be the case, as it is cheaper to use a design or technology that already exists rather than to rebuild it out of some misplaced desire to remain aloof. Why reinvent the wheel?
For now, we know that Faraday Future exists and has a face. Maybe one day, we will get to meet the mystery CEO, but until then, we will have to take what’s being offered. Based on the not-so-cryptic message on FFs website, the next chapter in the Faraday Future volume will be written at the 2016 Consumer Electronic Show: “On January 4, 2016, Faraday Future will unveil a concept inspired by our design and engineering vision. The future of mobility is closer than you think. Come and see.” Conveniently, Chevrolet is also expected to reveal the production version of the Bolt Concept. I, for one, cannot wait.
The interview closed by asking Nick Sampson if Faraday Future would have cars on the road by 2020. His response? “Absolutely.” I’m not sure if that is supposed to be a cliffhanger or not, but at that point, Faraday Future will be up against a fleet of several hundred thousand Teslas already on the road with several Tesla models in full production at a variety of price points.
Images Credit: Faraday Future