Faraday Future — the California-based electric car company that’s been operating in stealth mode for the past year and a half — made its first big splash on the eve of CES this week with the unveiling of the FFZERO1, a high-performance concept car. The sinewy machine looks more appropriate for a race track than a city street thanks to a claimed 1,000 horsepower, a 0-60 time under three seconds, and a top speed over 200 miles per hour. Of course, those are all purely theoretical numbers since this is just a concept, though the company teases that it could see “limited production.”
The design features a glass roof, which offers a clear view of the white carbon fiber interior and some of the car’s more novel ideas, like a smartphone mount in the center of the steering wheel, the Halo Safety System that supports the driver’s head and neck, and a helmet that feeds the driver water and oxygen. The instrument panel is also designed to gather biometric data about the driver.
Realistically, the FFZERO1 is not going to be Faraday Future’s first production car — instead, they’re using it to show off the potential that Faraday sees in its upcoming billion-dollar Nevada factory. The concept’s underlying platform, which it calls the Variable Platform Architecture, is touted as being highly customizable. "That platform is done on a very modular and flexible basis such that we can change the size of the platform," Nick Sampson, a senior VP at Faraday in charge of R&D and engineering, told us in a phone interview before the press conference. "We can change the number and power of the drive systems. We can change the physical size and electrical size of the battery packs, so we can get bigger and larger packs and smaller packs both on the electrical size and physical size because of the modularity of how the battery architecture is being done, which is unique compared to anybody else in the industry. The underlying story is all about the platform that’s being built."
That kind of flexibility is important: Faraday has hinted at operating under an unusual business model, where users would "subscribe" to a plan that gives access to autonomous vehicles of different types depending on their needs. A subscriber could request a cargo vehicle on one day, for instance, and a sporty sedan on the next.
The Verge first visited Faraday Future’s Southern California headquarters in November, where we experienced a version of the car in virtual reality on a simulated racetrack, which the designers also use in their studio design process. At CES, the company has Oculus Rift headsets programmed to show off FFZERO1’s performance, which comes courtesy of separate motors at each wheel.
But again, the FFZERO1 isn’t a production car, and it has a very different exterior from the covered prototype we were shown at the headquarters. "The concept is an amped up version of this platform," says Faraday spokesperson Stacy Morris. "It’s going to have four motors. It’s a one-seater hypercar." She compares the design of the battery pack to the look of a Hershey bar: the concept uses adaptable strings of batteries, in which rows of batteries can be removed or added. The placement of the motor can also be shifted within the platform to make a vehicle that is front-wheel, rear-wheel, or all-wheel drive.
"We’re working with the biggest and best battery cell suppliers in the world and working with them to design the architecture and battery packs, which will be done in house, in a way similar to the Tesla model," Sampson says. "They work with Panasonic, but the packs are all done by Tesla. We are designing our own packs and our own control systems." Faraday declined to disclose who its cell suppliers are, however.
The source of Faraday’s obviously substantial funding has been a mystery, but that’s finally coming into focus this week, too: the company has announced a strategic partnership with Chinese media firm LeTV, headed by billionaire Jia Yueting, who Forbes has reported to be the primary investor in the company’s new $1 billion, 3 million-square-foot factory. "We are two separate companies, but we are leveraging their expertise with technology and content," Morris says of LeTV, while touting Faraday’s "diverse funding strategy."
"We are going to have other sources of funding," she says. "We see the main markets being the US and China, but it’s a global launch strategy. The way automakers need to enter the market is often through these joint partnerships, so our association with LeTV will be helpful in entering China." LeTV, maker of smartphones, connected TVs, and media, could support Faraday Future’s efforts to develop content for consumption in autonomous cars, Morris says.
The company has announced a strategic partnership with Chinese media firm Letv
Faraday Future plans to break ground on the factory north of Las Vegas in the next few weeks, a futuristic space that the company sees as a tourist destination. "We are moving fast," Morris says. "Showing a high-performance vehicle speaks to our DNA. The company’s been around for less than 18 months, and we’re now up to 550 employees in Southern California. Bringing a car to market, we’re trying to do it as quickly as possible, but we are going to make sure that quality is a priority."
Even though it still doesn’t have a real product in sight, Faraday asserts that its nimble structure gives it an edge over traditional automakers. "We’re able to take opportunities and can change plans quickly," Sampson says. "Largely things are going in the direction we wanted, but also the type of organization we’ve set up, we need to be dynamic and flexible. We need to be able to react to need, which is one of our advantages. Our whole ecosystem is about being adaptable and flexible."
For now, the FFZERO1 gives Faraday a short bump of hype, but eventually, Sampson and team will have to deliver a real electric vehicle that people can actually buy — or subscribe to, as the case may be. The company hasn’t offered any updates on when the factory will be completed, but plans to launch an actual car "within the next couple years."
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