Faraday Future’s Disruptive Vision

Faraday Future launched a new concept vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. Called the FFZero1, it is the first glimpse at what the new California-based car company has been working on since its inception just 18 months ago.

Led by global design director Richard Kim (designer of BMW’s i3 and i8), FF’s design team reads like an all-star cast. Head of exterior design Page Beermann was formerly creative director at BMW; head of interior design Pontus Fontaeus has had experience at Volvo, Ferrari and Land Rover; head of color and materials Sue Neuhauser came over from Tesla; and creative director Jeff Nield was global strategic design manager for GM’s Cadillac brand (he’s also designed the Ford Start concept).

The new car’s certainly gotten a lot of attention since the covers were pulled off at a private unveiling on January 4th – as well it should: It looks like the lovechild of an F1 car and the next generation Batmobile (see video above). Besides its fighter jet like glazed canopy, overlapping surfaces cloaked in contrasting colorways and matte and gloss surfaces, bodywork made from lightweight composites and endless tunnels flowing through the vehicle to enhance its aerodynamic efficiency, its overall design theme is incredibly futuristic, underpinned, literally, by an innovative and infinitely adaptable platform.

Deemed a “car of concepts” the FFZero1 is an “extreme test bed” for a range of features that will appear on the forthcoming production vehicle, says FF design director Kim. These include a zero gravity seat inspired by NASA placed at a 45-degree angle in the cabin to enhance driver comfort; a drive-by-wire-asymmetric instrument panel built around features that are most often used; a gestural interface that incorporates swipes, pinches and touches; an augmented reality display system that projects information onto the road ahead; and a smartphone docking platform embedded into the steering wheel.

By FF’s own admission the FFZero1 concept car shown is an undeniable ‘dream car’ with no production intent whatsoever. The single seat electric supercar is claimed to showcase the company’s future design language, which will include what Kim calls the “UFO line” – a prominent character line that essentially divides the upper and lower body of the car.

Other than that and the beautifully retro-inspired FF logo adorning the front end and wheels, the concept’s exterior design is not indicative of the new vehicle that’s scheduled to hit the streets in 2018 – less than two years time. This has caused doubters to speculate about the company’s overall viability and call into question the multi-million dollar tax-incentive offered by Nevada to build the company’s new production facility in the state.

While it is unheard of that a company could get that type of state funding without having proved itself at all, I’m fairly certain the officials that signed off on this deal had a bit more to go on then just FF’s word. Nevada’s (and indeed Federal) officials have undoubtedly had a look at the business plan, its assets and investors and ultimately its ability to provide for its workers and the state over the long term. These people aren’t stupid — they obviously liked what they saw well enough to extend them this offer.

Unlike other car company startups, Faraday’s clout extends beyond simple financial means. The company’s senior VP of product research Nick Sampson – one of FF’s founding members — previously worked for Tesla and Lotus, while other employees hail from the consumer electronics (Apple) and the technology industry (Google). It’s 750-strong workforce also includes people that have government, aerospace and medical industry experience. Backed by the Chinese billionaire who created LeTV, China’s version of Netflix, FF’s collective vision is greater than that of a typical car company.

What the naysayers have in common is that all are accustomed to an industry that is incredibly slow to react to change. The average lifecycle of an automotive product is 3.5 years and the average development time of a new vehicle can extend well over five years. FF is not subscribing to this development cycle.

The main point of the concept is to showcase the company’s new variable platform architecture (VPA), which is poised to dramatically shorten development cycles as well as drastically reduce costs all while providing unprecedented variability in vehicle design. Though some legacy companies have been exploring modular platforms and even implementing them for a few years, FF’s ambition to offer a range of vehicle typologies based on this architecture has never been attempted on this scale ever before.

Faraday’s way of doing things is far from conventional. Most companies wait until they have at least a few road-going versions of existing vehicles in the range before showing a blue-sky vision of a potential new product. Clearly that wasn’t the case here. But with an all-star team with experience in the automotive sector as well as the technology sector, the company’s modus operandi is more akin to the latter, meaning it will adapt faster to market needs than what we’ve come to expect from traditional automotive companies.

FF’s design director has gone on record saying that the car is being built from the inside out. Though I’ve heard legacy auto companies describe this method of working in the past, it’s been little more than marketing spiel. In FF’s case I actually believe it to be true. The company is exploring new ways to provide mobility to a new generation of consumers – some of which may not actually want to own a vehicle. The overall user experience in future vehicles will be paramount.

With electric, automated and subscription-based mobility solutions being touted both at CES and beyond, it seems that the traditional car ownership model is rapidly becoming antiquated. The new age of the car is looming, and Faraday Future is poised to fill this anticipated need. We’re looking forward to seeing what they’ve envisioned when they’re ready to show it. Until then, we’re happy to dream a little.


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