Faraday's Biggest Problem Isn't The Money
The FF-91 fails to answer the biggest question about it to date: Who is supposed to buy this car?
- Test Drives
Faraday Future delivered on their promise to make history last night, with the spectacularly bizarre reveal of the long-awaited FF-91—a feature-packed electric crossover without a factory, MSRP or target customer.
Faraday has a big problem, but it’s not their questionable finances.
It’s the car.
The FF-91 reveal was a make-or-break moment for Faraday, and as SNL’s Stefon would say: This place had everything. A billionaire Chinese investor who might be going broke. An automotive startup trying to survive a media witch-hunt. Employees who wanted to talk, but wouldn’t give their names. A shortage of hors d’oeuvres. A Ferrari. A Bentley. A Tesla. A meaningless drag race. An unflappable Englishman who should be CEO but inexplicably isn’t. An engineer in a bad shirt two sizes too small. A sea of foreign media who sat through it all with rictus grins. A car that failed in its moment of truth.
My God. The missing money. The opaque company structure. The over-long reveal. The vague plan. This is what happens when no one is in charge. It wouldn’t matter if Faraday had $10B in the bank. Remove words like mobility and connectivity and what’s left?
You’re in the car business. People pay for great cars. People will even buy lousy cars from great brands. But people will not buy confused cars at a premium from a non-brand.
The FF-91 is a very confused car. A technical tour-de-force which highlights Faraday’s biggest problem. It’s not as sexy as a Tesla Model S. It doesn’t have Falcon doors like a Model X. It has suicide doors, which are the poor man’s scissor doors. Let’s be serious. It’s not as inspired as the recently revealed Lucid Air. The FF-91 instead packs most of the tech of a Tesla into the body of a fancy Ford Edge.
The FF-91 does have more technology onboard than Tesla, because Faraday added a retractable Lidar sensor for autonomous driving. Alas, they put it in the middle of the hood. Turn it on and it looks like a snorkel broke while rising out of your front end. A disastrous design choice, coupled with odd side-view cameras that replace traditional mirrors. More aerodynamic, I’m sure, but if you’re going to ditch mirrors, why have stalks at all? We’ve seen body-conforming cameras done better.
As for the autonomy, Faraday is in the same boat as every manufacturer besides Waymo and Tesla—basically nowhere. Once self-driving hardware is commoditized, software is everything. Maps don’t cut it. You need driving data. Millions and millions of miles of it. What does Faraday have in this department? They weren’t saying last night.
Performance? No one cares anymore if an electric car can do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds. Teslas do that now. We almost expect electric cars to do that. An FF-91 does it in 2.4? It's not much of a selling point, and passengers aren’t going to like it at all. Not more than once, anyway. A Tesla in Ludicrous mode already makes me ill.
Handling? EV handling has been commoditized since the Model S came out in 2012. All next-gen EVs have their batteries on the floor. They’re all heavy. No one buys a big crossover for the handling, EV or otherwise.
Range? A promised 387 miles from a 130KW battery sounds impressive, but Lucid quotes 400 miles from the same pack size. What will Tesla offer in 2018 when the Lucid and FF-91 hit the market? It seems a sure bet that it’ll be over 400 miles.
One of the biggest jokes among the many present at the launch was Faraday’s claim of 1050 horsepower. Lucid claimed 1000 two weeks ago. Better one-up them! This car goes to 11. Nevermind that sources tell me EV horsepower is always a software tweak away—if you're willing to destroy your battery.
Faraday also promises the world’s fastest charging, compatible with all standards—but no network like that exists today, or is likely to exist when FF-91 deliveries ostensibly begin in March 2018. Tesla has their Supercharging network, but it’ll be an icy day in Fremont before Elon Musk opens it up to a rival. By the time the Porsche-led Euro consortium builds their high-speed charging network, Tesla will have improved theirs as well. Access to one network is hardly an improvement over a network that already exists.
As to the price, Faraday was conspicuously silent. The top-of-the-line Lucid with similar specs will allegedly cost $160,000 in late 2018.
A maxed out Tesla Model X costs just under $150,000 today, a maxed out Model S a little less than that. That buys a newly-minted owner into one of the world’s most powerful automotive and technology brands, and the best autonomy on the market. What's Lucid's value proposition? They're apparently offering an unproven super Model S, but bigger.
Which brings us to Faraday’s increasingly narrow value proposition: If you’re willing to spend that much on a premium electric sedan in 2018, you’re buying the next gen Model S with a better interior, or perhaps a Lucid. If you want a SUV/crossover, you’re shopping a Model X—also the beneficiary of an improved interior. There's very little room left in the market.
Forget Faraday the company and consider the FF-91 on its own merits. Faraday is snatching luxury from the jaws of minivan. Maybe it’s the other way around. The FF-91 is like the car designed by Homer Simpson. It's trying to be all things to all people, and is therefore nothing anyone wants. In the electric future, everything will be fast. Everything will have all the same hardware. Everything will handle reasonably well. Everything will be safe. Consumers will be attracted to, and make their decisions based on. brand, design and value.
What’s a Faraday? No one dreams of a better Ford Edge. Well, I know people who do. But only if it costs $60k.
No wonder Faraday didn’t want to talk price.
A lot of people I like and admire are at Faraday. The company's mistakes were made above them. They're mistakes that weren’t made at Tesla, and have yet to be made at Lucid. I hope Faraday gets the money they need, because we need more innovation. The old guard in Japan, Detroit and Germany remain sclerotic.
Something tells me the Chinese government will bail Faraday out if necessary—but money doesn’t guarantee success—smart choices do. There just weren’t enough of them going around Faraday when they settled on the FF-91. It's the wrong vehicle, revealed a year late, from a company full of people who deserve better leadership.