Manufacturing an entire car is a lot easier said than done.
On a chilly night in Las Vegas this month, Faraday Future — an electric vehicle company that pitches itself as a threat to Tesla — attempted to show off its self-parking feature in front of an auditorium full of journalists, employees and perhaps a few “skeptics and naysayers,” according to Executive VP Nick Sampson.
As instructed, YT Jia, the founder and CEO of LeEco — which the company contends is merely a “strategic partner” but offers few details on the nature of the connection beyond that — pressed the button on the driver-side door that should have sent the car to the middle of the stage.
Except, nothing happened.
“It’s feeling a little lazy,” Sampson ad-libbed. “As a new baby, she’s very timid.”
Then Sampson tried again. This time, the company inexplicably dimmed the stage lights and someone got into the driver’s seat. The car finally did what it was supposed to do: It moved a couple feet forward.
Demo failures happen. For any other company, a demo failure might be a slightly embarrassing setback.
For FF, which called its FF91 vehicle “the first of its species” and spent the evening promising to reinvent the auto industry, it’s an ominous start down an inherently difficult path of trying to build a self-driving electric car — or any car, for that matter.
That path, which companies like Google and Apple have reportedly steered away from after realizing building a car is not easy, is made more difficult by the lofty expectations and ambitions the company has set. Even Tesla has flailed quarter after quarter, missing production and delivery guidelines it set for itself.
At one point, the company even blamed its own “hubris” for missing its delivery guidelines.
As a new company that claims to be as much an automaker as a tech company, Faraday Future is still relatively inexperienced in both the software and hardware space. So it’s not just a matter of if FF can build a car, it’s also a question of the company’s software development capabilities.
Still, during a live interview at CES a few days after the unveiling, the company’s senior director of automation Jan Becker told me that the fledgling automaker is confident that it will get FF91 on the road in 2018.
That means FF plans to build its $1 billion factory that can ostensibly house not just vehicle production but also battery production in under a year. That’s despite the fact the company broke ground in 2016 but halted work on the factory at the end of the year with plans to resume work in 2017.
For comparison, Tesla broke ground on its Gigafactory in 2014,
That said, the Gigafactory will be producing batteries or a mass-market car, while Faraday is building for the ultra-luxury market.
It won’t be easy. Faraday has added $300 million in debt to its balance sheet because of overdue payments to suppliers and other vendors, according to BuzzFeed News. Those suppliers have also stopped work on the company’s orders, consequently adding further delays to Faraday’s vehicle production, BuzzFeed News reported.
Still, the company saw fit to show off footage of the location that will eventually be the home of the company’s factory in Reno, Nev. The images showed tractors pushing dirt across an empty field.
Faraday executives said the FF91 would “change the game.” Sampson added that the car was going to usher in a “new era of mobility.”
As an electric vehicle, the FF91 is technologically impressive. The car beats out many of those currently on the market with a battery that has a range of 378 miles and is able to go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds, on par with some of the most expensive high-performance sports cars on the planet.
Tesla — which according to a recent report sold the most EVs in the U.S. in 2016 — has a slightly lower-capacity battery with a maximum EPA-estimated range of 315 miles and goes from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds.
The car also boasts a facial recognition feature on the car door that enables the vehicle to match a driver’s profile and preferences. While the onstage demo may have failed, the company showed off footage of the car parking itself just outside the venue using what it calls its “valet” feature.
However, while the company expects to ship the car in 2018, Becker told me, it won’t have many additional semi-autonomous features. Faraday will instead launch those capabilities incrementally in over-the-air updates.
By the end of the evening there were still many questions left unanswered. For one, though the company told people how to order and reserve their FF91 — they received more than 60,000 reservations after the event — they didn’t say how much it would cost aside from a $5,000 refundable fee.
What is clear is that this particular model will be for the ultra-luxury market, according to Becker, who argued there is still consumer demand for a luxury EV. Eventually, though, the company plans to roll out mass-market vehicles as well.
It’s also still unclear what the relationship between LeEco and Faraday Future is and whether Faraday has enough funding to meet its ambitious goal of building a factory, producing and then shipping a car by 2018.
The company may well find a way to get the FF91 into the hands of consumers by 2018, but on the first month of 2017 all we have are what sound like overzealous aspirations that few if any companies have been able to meet.
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Author: Johana Bhuiyan
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