By Jeff Nisewanger
Controversial startup carmaker Faraday Future showed off a prototype of its first car yesterday at a large event in Las Vegas amid questions about its ongoing viability.
The introduction of the over-1,000 horsepower, autonomous-capable, “FF 91” luxury crossover SUV was held in conjunction with the annual CES 2017 consumer electronics convention.
Included in the show space intended to wow the audience were stadium seats facing a track runway used to launch the company’s new car with impressive acceleration. The FF 91’s name is a bit of a mystery, and other open questions remain for this ostensible Tesla competitor.
First delivery is promised for 2018 and $5,000 refundable reservations are now being taken on the company’s website although final pricing was not provided or even estimated.
The turbulent company says it has 1,400 employees, has filed nearly 2,000 global patents, and designed a functional beta version of its new car in a short two-and-a-half years since its concept inception.
Faraday Future (FF) is bankrolled by Jia Yueting, a Chinese billionaire in the online video streaming business in that country. Yueting, who has recently acknowledged he may be overextending his investments, also oversees a Chinese electric automaker startup as part of his LeEco business conglomerate and owns a smaller stake in U.S.-based Lucid Motors. Some Faraday Future insiders and ex-employees have reportedly complained of being diverted to work on LeEco’s vehicle.
As for the FF 91, presentations were given by a number of high-profile employees. These included designer Richard Kim formerly of BMW, and Senior VP of engineering Nick Sampson who came from Tesla, and Peter Savagian who previously headed electric powertrain development at General Motors. Jia Yueting also participated and gave a short speech.
The newly revealed vehicle has crossover styling with an all-wheel-drive powertrain said to output an enormous 1,050 horsepower (783 kilowatts). The company reported Tesla-beating acceleration of 0-60 mph in as low as 2.39 seconds. A race track video showed Faraday’s car just nudging ahead of Tesla’s latest Model S P100D.
Battery capacity reaches 130 kilowatt-hours compared to Tesla’s present 100 kilowatt-hours. Driving range was estimated over 378 miles using EPA testing protocols with 482 miles achievable at a steady 55 mph.
The cylindrical battery cells come from LG Chem and are fitted in a so-called skateboard style platform under the floor. A chassis on display appeared to have a battery dimension about twice as thick as Tesla’s which could explain how they manage the high energy storage. It could also raise questions of how many pounds the battery is packing.
The company’s claimed peak charging rate of nearly 200 kilowatts is higher than Tesla’s roughly 120-kilowatt peak today. Lucid Motors, also an LG Chem customer, recently said it thinks 170 kilowatts is the fastest practical charging rate possible today with the same size battery pack without harming the pack’s long-term durability. Other details regarding the charging system were not given although compatibility with existing fast charging standards was asserted.
One distinguishing feature of the car is a single round LIDAR puck which visibly protrudes from the hood during automated driving but remains otherwise hidden. Some 10 cameras, 13 radars, and other sensors sweep the nearby surroundings. A live video demonstration in a nearby parking lot demonstrated the car’s ability to find an available slot and park itself after the driver had exited. A later demonstration inside the venue failed.
Like the recently introduced Air sedan from startup Lucid Motors, the car features unusual dual parallel fins anchored near the left and right trailing sides of the roof. The fins will act as antennas and will also house rear-facing cameras.
Just last year, the company debuted a squat non-functioning sports car concept vehicle that some observers referred to as the “batmobile.”
Faraday Future has plans for a large assembly factory in Nevada but so far has only managed to flatten dirt at the site after failing to make timely payments to its contractor. Nevada state treasurer Dan Schwartz, who oversees the state’s incentives used to help build the plant, has recently questioned the company’s financial stability.
Some senior executives have recently left and the company apparently has no formal ongoing CEO.
Faraday’s lead designer, Richard Kim, said the car has a large 126 inch wheelbase that allows for ample rear seating space. This, in turn, allows for reclining rear seats which are a popular option in luxury cars in Asia. An unusually tight turning circle is enabled by steerable rear wheels and power can be torque vectored to the wheels while speeding along curvy roads using the two independent electric motors, each driving its own rear wheel, in addition to the single front motor.
The FF 91 has unusual suicide doors like the BMW i3 electric car that Kim previously designed, although that car omitted the center B-pillar. The doors have no handles and are popped open by touch and unlocked apparently by facial recognition or previously-paired cellphone recognition.
Kim said the design was driven by aerodynamic considerations although it achieves a 0.25 drag coefficient. This is good for a crossover SUV, but otherwise just matches that of a Toyota Prius while Tesla is said to be aiming for 0.21 on its Model 3 which is still in development.
The beta prototype car presented had camera-based exterior side view “mirrors” which are not yet legal for vehicles sold in the U.S. An adapter may be provided that converts to physical mirrors while they are still legally mandated.
Presenters stressed that the FF 91 is not merely a car but a hyper-connected mobility environment that will be smoothly integrated with customer electronic devices. Multiple high-speed network connections will be redundantly managed in order to avoid loss of connectivity. Streaming video and other content will seamlessly move from a phone to the car’s larger built-in passenger displays. Each occupant can be individually identified by an “FF ID” tracked by software on their phone thus recreating their preferred options and environment when they enter the vehicle.
The company promised ongoing updates in the coming year to show off the car’s interior design and provide more details on charging infrastructure, pricing, and other details.
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