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Faraday Future finally revealed a real car, but you may never get to own one

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Troubled car startup has its put-up-or-shut-up moment

Faraday Future finally revealed its first production car, officially dubbed the FF91, tonight in Las Vegas. It’s a breathtaking if bewildering crossover, unveiled at a lavish, stunt-filled event befitting the hype-driven company’s last tumultuous year. A car parked itself. The rogue’s gallery of rival luxury and electric vehicles were brought on stage for a simulated drag race, only to be dismissed as inadequately fast enough compared to the FF91. Another car failed to park itself. And there were tiny tacos.

Unsurprisingly, the company’s executives steered clear of answering any questions about financial viability or whether the funds exist to bring this shiny, self-driving futuristic vehicle to production. In other words, Faraday Future has a car, but it’s unclear whether anyone will ever get to own one.

Based on what FF presented tonight, the answer seems to be pretty iffy. Nick Sampson, the company’s vice president for engineering and public face, said only 300 “Alliance Edition” launch units will be available initially to those who make a $5,000 (refundable) deposit, with some of the proceeds going to unnamed environmental charities. First deliveries are expected in 2018.

The specs FF claims are certainly impressive on the surface. FF says the FF91’s battery has a 130 kilowatt-hour capacity with 378 miles of range. Its 1,050 horsepower engine is “insane,” as one executive described it. And it can go from 0–60 in 2.39 seconds, which FF say is faster than speedy rivals like the Tesla Model X.

A glowing uniform headlight graces the front like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. A LIDAR sensor is embedded in the hood rather than the roof, like most other self-driving cars, and emerges and retracts like a Whack-a-Mole.

The car’s door will open itself, if the person requesting entry has an FF ID on his or her smartphone. This is part of FF’s promise to produce the most connected car on the market. There are a full suite of self-driving sensors: 10 front and rear-facing cameras, 13 long and short-distance radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and the high-def LIDAR.

The company promises seamless connectivity to your phone and its music and media. It says its selling not just a car, but a “virtual ecosystem.” Sampson called it a “new species” of vehicle. Keep in mind, the company’s main investor, Jia Yueting, is the owner of LeEco, which has been called the Netflix of China.

The stakes are incredibly high for FF, which has had a tumultuous year marked by a lot of hype, explosive growth, high-profile staff departures, lawsuits, failed payments, and questions about the company’s relationship with Jia and his company LeEco. Jia made an appearance at the end of FF’s event, proclaiming the FF91 to be “very cool.”

But in a moment that echoed LeEco’s snafu-filled event in California a few months ago, Sampson prompted Jia to push the FF91’s self-parking feature, only to have the car stubbornly remain in place. “As a new baby, she's very very timid,” Sampson chortled. (The car later complied and moved across the stage with no one in it.)

FF has been teasing the reveal for months, posting teaser images and short videos of its camouflaged vehicle going head-to-head on a racetrack against a Bentley, a Ferrari, and a Tesla Model X.

Meanwhile, the startup has been drowning in a deluge of bad press. The Verge published a behind the scenes report of FF during a time of both high expectations and worrisome financial news for the electric carmaker. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees showed the company’s financial situation to be dire, while mounting debts, unpaid bills, supplier lawsuits, and financial mismanagement have all served to chip away at the company’s foundation.

Days after the report was published, two high-profile executives, Marco Mattiacci, chief brand and commercial officer, and Joerg Sommer, vice president for product marketing and growth, both left the company. Then Ding Lei, a top executive at LeEco and “global CEO” of FF, stepped down from overseeing Faraday Future.

At the end of Tuesday’s event, Sampson directly addressed those who question whether FF will able to keep its lights on in a few months time. “I can say now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all the naysayers and skeptics, we will carry on,” he said, “and make the impossible possible.”

But a former FF executive had a different take. “I'm sure it will come off slick with oooohhhss and aaaahhhhsss,” the executive told me, “but it's smoke and mirrors.”