With a New CEO, EV Startup Faraday Future is Focused on Transforming Mobility
Luxury electric vehicle startup Faraday Future has experienced ups and downs over the past several years. After blowing through nearly $2 billion dollars in venture capital to build its ultra-luxury, intelligent electric vehicle, the company ran into financial and organizational problems, furloughed employees and its plans to build a $1 billion factory in the Nevada desert fell through.
Faraday Future, founded in 2014 and headquartered in Los Angeles, was once viewed as a serious competitor to Tesla. However the company's financial problems forced it to delay the development of its first flagship luxury electric model the FF91. Now the company is aiming to get back on its feet with a new CEO.
Faraday Future is now led by former BMW engineer Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, who took over as CEO just two months ago.
Breitfeld, is an auto industry veteran who spent twenty years at BMW. He is best known as the designer of BMW's futuristic i8 electric hybrid car. At BMW, Breitfeld led the i8 project from concept to production vehicle in just 38 months, and unprecedented speed for the traditionally slow moving auto industry.
Now his experience in developing the BMW i8 from concept to production vehicle is being tapped for the production of Faraday's flagship FF91.
Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, CEO of Faraday Future, speaking at AutoMobility LA on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.
FutureCar spoke with Dr. Breitfeld this week at Automobility LA 2019, where Faraday Future showed off the luxury interior of the FF91 luxury electric vehicle for the first time ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Over the past several years, Automobility LA has grown into a showcase for automakers, mobility startups and EV startups to show off their latest products.
"When I did the BMW i program, I came in contact with the future of mobility." said Breitfeld. "I really want to be part of the transformation and become part of a company that shapes the future of transportation." which he said led to his decision to join Faraday Future as CEO.
"With the approach of Faraday, the technology product and the even more much disruptive business model, we are in a good position to become the company I always envisioned."
The CEO role at Faraday is Dr Breitfeld's second leadership position in an EV startup.
After Breitfeld left BMW he co-founded another promising EV startup electric vehicle startup Byton, which he now calls "an intermediate step" in his career path. In April 2019, he left Byton and briefly joined another China-based electric vehicle startup Iconiq Motors. In September he took over the reigns at Faraday Future.
He said that Faraday's advanced electric powertrain technology also prompted his decision to join the financially strapped startup and he saw an opportunity to turn things around. To start, we asked Dr Breitfeld what his immediate plans are for Faraday Future now that he's the new CEO.
"There is one clear business goal for Faraday—bringing a product out to the customer as soon as possible. We plan to have a product to market before September 2020. This is the biggest shortcoming of the company, not bringing a product to market. It's the biggest milestone we have to achieve." said Breitfeld.
"The company has the technology, a product and a great plan, but never achieved production. Even though the FF91 is not a high-volume product, having it out, building it and delivering it to the customer by September of next year is the biggest goal."
Competition for Faraday is heating up, as global automakers including Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Audi and Ford are introducing their own fully-electric mass-production models next year, following Tesla's lead into the electric vehicle space.
He added that not having a vehicle on the market after five years of work changed the whole perception of the company as just another EV startup that failed to achieve its goals.
The flagship FF91 will have a price tag over $150,000, putting Faraday in the ultra-premium luxury electric car space with the likes of Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Tesla and rival luxury-electric automaker Lucid Motors, another well-funded EV startup led by former Tesla employee Peter Rawlinson, who served as Vice President of Vehicle Engineering and Chief Engineer on the Tesla Model S.
Breitfeld said Faraday's next luxury electric vehicle the slightly smaller, higher-volume FF81. The FF81 will be less expensive and on par with the Tesla Model S, costing upwards of $80,000.
"Faraday Future is a premium brand, but premium doesn't necessarily mean expensive." he said. Eventually Breitfeld hopes to offer a premium electric vehicle in the $40,000 range, although he said that's well into the future.
However, before that happens Faraday needs some much needed cash, Breitfeld said that Faraday Future has to work to get back the trust of potential investors, as much of the company's financial problems and business dealings surrounded its former founder and CEO, Chinese billionaire and entrepreneur Jia "YT" Yueting, which is another story in itself you can read more about here.
Yueting filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States last month in a bid "to address his personal debts in China."
Yueting stepped down from his CEO post in September 2019, setting up Breitfeld to take over his former role as CEO. However YT's influence over the company still lingers. He now serves as Faraday's "Chief Product and User Officer."
The FF91's advanced electric powertrain
Despite all of the debts associated with its former CEO and the startup's struggles, Breitfeld said he's really impressed with Faraday's innovative electric powertrain technology for the FF91.
"We are really proud of the powertrain technology. It's really the most advanced one you can get." said Breitfeld, who has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.
He said he compared Faraday's powertrain technology to the official specs of the new fully-electric Porsche Taycan sedan and Audi e-tron SUV and found that Faraday's electric powertrain was much more technologically advanced.
"It's definitely the most advanced, when its comes to power density to weight, power to torque, and power to range." he said.
Faraday Future's FF91 is built upon the company's Variable Platform Architecture, which is able to accommodate a number of vehicle lengths and wheelbases with a "skateboard" platform.
The FF91's advanced powertrain uses permanent magnet synchronous motors instead of AC induction. Permanent magnet motors can carry a higher load capacity with direct current and run more efficiently, "instantly turning on like a light switch," according to the company.
Each electric motor in FF 91 can produce a peak of 350 horsepower. In two-motor configurations, that amounts to 700 horsepower, for three-motor models it's 1,050 horsepower. Faraday's patented Echelon Inverter sends power to the three motors faster and more efficiently, producing immediate acceleration with no delay.
The Echelon Inverter was the company's first patent of more than 1,200 patents issued or pending, and is about 20 to 30% more efficient than several of the other inverter systems currently on the market, the company claims.
This setup is unique among other production EVs. Power is delivered via three drive modes—Eco, Comfort and Sport. Faraday includes two additional drive settings—Hyper Drive, and Energy Savings, the latter is designed to conserve battery power.
Building a connected car ecosystem
However, the powertrain technology is just one part of Faraday's mission. Breitfeld wants to create an advanced connected ecosystem at Faraday to connect passengers with their digital worlds.
"You need powertrain technology to build electric cars, but it's all about connected cars, intelligent cars, it's about cars creating a user experience, a digital experience. For that, you need so much more." Breitfeld said. And so far, the FF91 has it.
The FF 91 can accommodate up to 11 screens throughout its interior, including a massive 15.4-inch center display for audio, 360-degree surround view and other controls. The 17-inch passenger-side display can be used for video conferencing, among other uses like entertainment.
The FF91 also supports conversational AI with its built in voice controlled assistant. The intelligent system was developed in-house by Faraday and allows drivers to interact with it like talking to a human. The built-in AI is designed to reduce driver distraction by responding to compound queries.
For example, A driver can say, "Find me an Italian restaurant on my route that has at least a 4-star rating and outdoor seating." and the FF91's will bring up a numbered list of restaurant options matching the request on the center display. From here, a driver follow up the request with "Let's go to number four." and the FF91 will bring up directions to navigate to the 4th restaurant on the list. A member of Faraday's software team gave me a demo of the system and it worked as impressively.
The FF91 has 11 display screens throughout its interior.
Breitfeld said Faraday is already developing the hardware in the vehicle to support a connected car ecosystem. The FF91 is being outfitted with three seperate gateway devices for internet connectivity. All of the gateway devices can operate independently on their own cellular network.
The FF91 can support three simultaneous 4G LTE connections from three cellular providers, so the signal to the vehicle is never interrupted, which Dr Breitfeld described as "an important goal."
One of the three connections is reserved for vehicle diagnostics and over-the-air software updates, while the other two are used to support the FF 91's various in-vehicle connectivity and entertainment options. Having three separate internet connection might seem like overkill, but Breitfeld believes its necessary to deliver the passenger experience Faraday is aiming for.
"If you really want to come up with the network coverage in a car that gives you a great experience that's seamless and never interrupted, you need to have a very stable high-speed connection." Breitfeld said.
With 11 displays inside the vehicle, the additional hardware is used to deliver personalized content for each passenger no matter where they are sitting. The system is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 820A chips, among the most powerful available today for automotive applications.
The FF 91 provides a full suite of connectivity, including rear monitors with conference-calling ability for working on the go. The FF91 also integrates facial recognition and front and rear sound zones. These "sound zones" accommodate the personal audio needs of each passenger, including the ability to pair up to four Bluetooth devices to the infotainment system at one time.
"It's one example of technology you have to create if you really want to build a smart device on wheels. You will not find this technology at any other company." Breitfeld said.
"This is not just the plan here—it's done. You can see it in the car (FF91), the IP is already at Faraday, and the hardware is already built."
The gateway modules and vehicle hardware were designed in-house at Faraday and built to specs by Faraday's suppliers.
Faraday Future is not focused on autonomous driving right now
Unlike many other automakers at the moment, Faraday is not concentrating on autonomous driving at this stage. Instead, the company is focused on delivering a luxurious and connected user experience, something he wants the Faraday brand to become known for.
"Autonomous driving from my understanding, does not add much value to cars which are owned by individuals," Breitfeld said. However, he added that shared mobility and cars that are not personally owned will benefit much more from autonomous driving capability, something that he foresees in the future.
"It's still about cars." he said. "The hardware part of the car will become more of a commodity he predicts. "The real chance will be for automakers to become a mobility player."
Breitfeld envions Faraday Future one day becoming a technology provider, like tech giant Apple. He said "In the future it will all be about user experience."
He predicts that Faraday's technology might be good enough to sell the hardware and software to other companies, including automakers who don't have the same level of advanced technology as some of the tech companies and startups developing it.
The luxurious interior of the FF91
Breitfeld compares the in-cabin experience in FF91 luxury vehicle to flying first class, where the model number of the plane doesn't really matter to the customer, rather it's the customer experience created by the airline that really draws customers in. He predicts that auto brands may one day be defined by delivering a superior mobility experience, a goal he has for Faraday.
Faraday describes the passenger experience in the FF91 to that of a "private jet on 22-inch wheels" designed to offer passengers in a relaxing, lounge-like experience. Some of that first class experience is already integrated in the FF91 early prototypes.
For example, Dr Breitfeld said the FF91 includes a unique feature called "Spa Mode", with reclining rear seats, soft mood lighting and soothing music to help passengers relax while traveling. "It's really cool." he said.
The rear seats recline to 60 degrees, like the first class cabins found in some of the world's best airliners. The FF91 also includes a 27-inch widescreen rear monitor that descends from the roof, so rear passengers can watch their favorite entertainment in comfort.
Faraday borrowed principles from NASA's space experiments for the rear seats to create "Neutral Body Posture", optimally distributing the user's body weight to provide a more relaxing, rejuvenating experience for rear seat passengers. The rear seats provide full lower leg, back and lumbar adjustment.
During a visit to Faraday Future's headquarters near downtown Los Angeles this week, we got to try out the NASA-inspired zero gravity rear seats in the FF91 and they were as comfortable as promised.
The FF91's reat seats optimally distribute body weight to provide a more relaxing experience for rear seat passengers.
The FF91 was developed entirely using virtual and augmented reality so its designed around how passengers will interact with the vehicle, not the other way around.
Despite Dr Breitfeld's positive outlook for Faraday Future, the company has still a long way to go, especially with securing millions in financing to support Faraday's lofty goals of building and delivering the fully-electric FF91 luxury vehicle to customers. He's also up against other automakers introducing their own fully-electric models.
"Obviously the car companies will be able to build electric cars. There is no doubt about it." he added. Breitfeld predicts that a seamless and superior user experience, not the ability to scale production like global automakers can, will define auto brands in the future.
However, Breitfeld remains optimistic that Faraday's advanced electric powertrain technology, intelligent software and luxury passenger experience will help the company succeed, and he's in for the long haul at the company.
"We are in a good position to become the company I always envisioned," he said. "There is no plan B."
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