“Please let this be real.” The headline that I saw yesterday summed up the feelings I, and so many other enthusiasts, had both before and after Faraday Future’s big unveiling last week at the glitzy CES 2017 show in Las Vegas. And the FF91 was up on stage.
And it sounded great. It sounded too good to be true.
But that’s because maybe it is.
Here’s why I’m — an open-minded guy, an unabashed tech geek and early adopter and advocate for the new and exciting and cutting-edge — sceptical of the FF91, and by proxy why I’m sceptical of Faraday Future because of it.
Faraday Future, after a difficult 12 months, appeared on stage on the opening day of CES at an exclusive, invite-only event to reveal what it calls the FF91: an electric car boasting multiple electric motors delivering 1050hp (783kW), with a 130kWh battery pack capable of 378mi (608km) of range on a single charge, with 200kW fast charging that will replenish that battery from empty to full in 45 minutes.
This is fantastic. In the sense of the word that it may as well be a fantasy.
Faraday Future promises to exceed every benchmark that its established competitors have set for it, benchmarks that have until now only slowly and progressively been iterated on. It promises to exceed them in one fell swoop. With no proof, yet. With no proof, there’s no reason for us to believe, to have faith, in the things that Faraday Future is saying. And it’s saying them to ask for your money.
The best, fastest, most expensive Tesla Model S that you can buy right now has a 100kWh battery pack. It’s about the limit of current battery tech; with new cells that took a hell of a lot of research to develop Tesla might reach 110kWh or maybe 120kWh in the same form factor. The same Model S has two electric motors outputting 760hp (568kW), but those motors can only deliver that power for a very short time before limiting their energy due to heat output.
Tesla’s still-fledgling Supercharger network — it’s established in the US, but still growing across Europe and Australia — can only deliver a maximum of 145kW of energy through to the cars’ battery during the fastest of fast charging phases. That’s a number that has slowly grown over a couple of years, and Tesla is widely regarded as the state of the art in battery and charging tech.
These products took years of research and development to deliver to the market. It might not seem like it, but Tesla was found 13 years ago, and it’s taken the company 13 years to deliver a product that Faraday Future promises to beat basically overnight, after just a couple of years of funding from Chinese technology company LeTV.
It all just seems like someone at Faraday Future looked across the fence at the guys from Tesla, and thought, “What they’ve got looks pretty good. Let’s say we have one of those, but bump up all the numbers by — hmmm — a third? A third’ll do.”
The adage in the automotive manufacturing world goes that anyone can make one of something. You can make an amazing concept car, you can make an amazing concept car that drives if you’re desperate enough. That’s the FF91 as it exists at the moment, and the existence of the FF91 should not convince you that Faraday Future can deliver on its promises.
You should not trust any tech company. Not even if that tech company has been around since time immemorial, not if that tech company is a plucky upstart with some big runs on the board in early days, and especially not if that tech company has done nothing to earn your trust or prove itself before making outlandish claims and asking for your hard-earned money.
Remember all the promises Microsoft made about Windows Phone? And then Windows Phone 8.1? And then Windows 10 Mobile? I’m genuinely sorry if you bought a Windows phone. You know who you are, and I won’t call you out publicly, because I know you’d rather forget it ever happened. But Windows Phone was promised to be so much, and this from a company that could not be more seminal in modern computing.
It was Microsoft. But they messed up. Where is Windows Phone today? It represents a portion of the smartphone market that may as well be a rounding error, because iOS and Android combined to — along with Microsoft’s missteps — slowly strangle it off and drive it out of any kind of relevancy. That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to the rumoured Surface phone, but it is to say I’m going to take a hell of a lot of convincing to embrace one when and if it appears.
To take another recent example from Faraday Future’s motoring-disrupting startup alumni, you don’t need to go far from FF’s Nevada construction site — a construction site without any construction going on. Take the I-15 down to Los Angeles then head up the I-5 from Faraday’s American headquarters, and you’ll get to Fremont in California. That’s where Tesla’s massive high-tech factory is. It’s where genuine revolution has happened.
Tesla made some big promises initially — way back before it IPO’d with a share price of $US17 in 2010. It delivered on those promises, and it’s continued to deliver on those promises — not that there haven’t been hiccups along the way, and not that the broader tech and motoring press isn’t continuing to hold them to account. Tesla’s share price is about to crack $US230. This is a successful startup.
But. Tesla made some missteps along its path, and it will continue to make missteps, as any innovating company does. The falcon wing doors on its Model X SUV were notoriously troublesome during their initial launch period. Its Autopilot tech is not yet the perfect human-replacing panacea it is sometimes claimed (mostly by non-Tesla folk) to be, and lofty expectations have been missed. The relentless pace of its extremely non-traditional upgrade cycle means that if you buy a Tesla tomorrow, you might miss out on the next feature-set upgrade announced the day after.
Watch Faraday Future’s press conference. Actually, don’t watch that one. That’s a video that Faraday Future has uploaded to YouTube to replace its press conference, an edited version that cuts out an embarrassing fumble. Faraday Future is actively trying to rewrite history to try and look slick and successful when demonstrating its product. That’s not honest. That alone should be enough to dissuade you from putting $US5000 into a reservation for the FF91 — which you can do right now.
Tesla opened up pre-orders for its Model 3 with basically zero information about what the car would be like — not much beyond a couple of Elon Musk tweets and a snowball of rumours and speculation from enthusiasts. But, when the Model 3 was unveiled, it was unveiled as a work in progress. I put down cash for a Model 3, because on the rational sum total of the information presented to me, I felt confident that one day, I’ll have a car to pick up and drive away. I don’t feel the same way about Faraday Future, and especially not about the FF91.
CES has had missteps before — too many to count, really. When Michael Bay bailed out of Samsung’s CES 2014 press conference, it was embarrassing and kinda weird, but Samsung didn’t try to hide that it had happened. It’s not a bright point in the company’s history, sure, but Samsung didn’t try to Streisand it off the ‘net. Samsung is, by the way, the company with the world’s biggest, most high-profile, most expensive and wide-ranging and complete consumer technology recall in its recent history. Remember the Galaxy Note7?
And what’s Samsung doing? Holding a press conference in a couple of weeks where it will publicly explain — in probably excoriating detail — what went wrong with the Note7. That’s what a mature company does. When it makes a mistake, there’s probably a lot of high-decibel swearing in a back room somewhere, but that company then owns up to its errors and tries doubly hard to atone for them in the future. It doesn’t hide the fact that something went wrong, and make smoke-and-mirror claims to try and distract from any sceptical and rational investigation.
There will be a Galaxy Note8 some time this year. But I’m not certain that there’ll be a Faraday Future FF91, or a Faraday Future at all, ever. I want so desperately to be proven wrong, but I’m not confident that I will be.