Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 6, 2016

The Faraday Conundrum

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Faraday Future’s FFZERO1 concept was unveiled in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS

Faraday Future, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show here Jan. 4, introduced a bright, shiny object.

Some people, including the Faraday representatives who introduced it, called it a car.

Who knows if it was, or whether it was just a prop.

An object on a stage, as any magician in Las Vegas can tell you, is whatever you tell the audience it is.

If it was a car – it even had a spiffy car-like name: FFZERO1 – it looked futuristic, at best, if not wildly impractical. Techies, who number in the hundreds of thousands at the CES show, feigned starry-eyed wonder. The handful of automotive writers here, who regularly report on the industry, seemed a bit harder to impress.

Faraday folks claimed the FFZERO1 was powered by batteries and electric motors that could propel it by the force of more than 1,000 horsepower. Accordingly, it could travel at over 200 m.p.h. – accelerating from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in less than three seconds, they added.

Those are big numbers – race car numbers – although not ground-breakingly big numbers. A Bugatti Veyron could top that – as far back as 2005. So this is not hot-off-the-presses new news, from a transportation standpoint. The FFZERO1 is allegedly meant to be a race car – it only has a seat for one occupant, after all – but there was no claim it has ever actually achieved such speeds. Or any speed, really. Who knows if it even runs? Was it driven, or pushed, onto the Vegas stage?

That’s the thing about auto show concepts and design studies; they are so often just flights of fancy: Ideas that have leaped off the drawing board (or computer screen). Pick a number – any number – and claim that is its capability. Dream up any powertrain – Ford once touted nuclear reactors in a future filled with flying Ranchero pickups – and promise a transportation revolution.

But what did Faraday really show here? What did Faraday intend to do, besides dazzle a gaggle of credulous tech fan boys? Where was the steak to go with the sizzle? Hard to say. Maybe time will tell. Maybe memory being as faulty and as fleeting as it is, people will soon forget such claims were even made.

Faraday, operating somewhat secretively from Gardena, California at this writing, says it plans to break ground soon on a billion-dollar manufacturing facility on a particularly desolate patch of desert north of Las Vegas. It claims it will hire more than 4,000 new workers and will start building cars there by sometime next year. Exactly when cars – finished cars, federalized to safety and emissions standards, ready for sale – will start rolling off the assembly line is much harder to pin down. The gestation period for competitors – Tesla comes to mind – has been years longer than originally projected.

But Faraday has only been around a couple of years, and already it claims a car like the FFZERO1 is an indication of how fast it can produce something from nothing. Or is it, in the case of the FFZERO1, merely nothing from nothing? That’s why I consider whether the FFZERO1 is really a car, or a merely a carbon fiber rabbit pulled out of a hat.

The FFZERO1 is supposed to showcase the company’s concept of a flat, scale-able platform that could be easily adapted to numerous vehicle types, including luxury sedans, sporty coupes, crossovers, compacts, pickup trucks or even – yes – a race car. The platform, the company said, could also be driven by its front or back wheels, as well as all four.
That concept is meant to facilitate speedier vehicle development than traditional methods, which can require years of refinement and testing to shape many disparate models.
The so-called skateboard platform is not exactly new either; General Motors offered a sneak preview of it more than a decade ago, in its Hy-Wire concept. The world is still waiting, however, for the first vehicle produced on such an architecture.
So, the traditional automotive community might be excused if it is not quite ready to accept Faraday’s claims at face value, especially its rosy projections of a quick entry into the exclusive realm of successful decades-old automakers.
Other red flags: Faraday says the FFZERO1’s pilot benefits from augmented reality technology projected on the road ahead; machine learning skills that help “educate” the car about the driver’s needs in real time and make comfort, convenience, and performance adjustments; a smartphone integrated into the steering wheel; and further electronic aids to minimize driver distraction.
Who knows if any of this tech currently exists, or whether it will make it into any production model – or if some of it did, how long before it might become obsolete?
That’s the thing about high-tech stuff: It becomes obsolete almost as fast as it is developed – sometimes in the matter of months – while a car is expected to last for decades – if not generations. There’s nothing quite as laughable as an older model car with now-passé “high tech features” such as a corded telephone in the center console, a tape deck, or a navigation system with out-dated maps. My 1957 Chrysler came with a .45 record player. How quaint.
In that way – and so many others – cutting edge tech in a car can be a double-edged sword.
That could fuel tech-centric Faraday’s rise, as well as its demise.
Who knows what models, if any, are currently in Faraday’s development pipeline, what they might look like, how well they might harness the lightning-quick pace of technology development? Will eager buyers queue up to buy them?
The only thing we can be sure of, I think, it that the stealthy looking FFZERO1, or anything remotely akin to it, will never appear in your driveway.
Jerry Garrett
January 5, 2016
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