Start-up automaker Faraday Future unveiled its first commercial electric vehicle at the technology industry’s annual Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday as the Los Angeles company grapples with skeptics who question whether it has the financial means to bring the vehicle to market.
Faraday Future has endured its share of criticism, beginning at last year’s CES when the much-hyped company showed images of a Batmobile-esque vehicle that was not designed for actual use. Since then, several leaders have departed the company, and it has temporarily suspended construction of its production facility.
Amid these challenges, the company rolled out an electric vehicle, called the FF91, that is slated to ship in 2018. The price was not disclosed, but customers can reserve the car for a $5,000 refundable fee.
“If you look at all the other signals at Faraday right now, it still looks like more of a long shot for launch,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with LMC Automotive.
The FF91 possesses features becoming increasingly common among high-end electric vehicles. It has a 130-kilowatt battery that can drive 378 miles on a single charge, the company said, which would make the car’s battery among the most durable on the market.
The FF91 also integrates artificial intelligence and other smart technologies to anticipate the needs of its occupants. The car promises to unlock when it detects the driver’s smartphone nearby and to find its own parking space even after the driver exits the vehicle. (Faraday Future showed two demos of the valet parking technology Tuesday. One appeared to work, but one did not.)
“There is quite a bit of advanced technology and engineering that is involved in the vehicle itself. On the surface, the vehicle certainly has quite a bit to offer,” Schuster said.
The design of the FF91 does not fit neatly in any of the traditional automotive categories. The shape of the body resembles a sedan, yet the car sits higher off the ground, as a small SUV does. Its ability to reach 60 mph in an advertised 2.39 seconds suggests it has the guts of a sports car. (Tesla’s Model S requires 2.5 seconds, comparatively.)
“We’re not conservative. We’re not predictable. Disruption is what drives us in every facet of our business,” said Nick Sampson, senior vice president of research and development. “It pushes us to design what others call impossible, to create things that have yet to exist, and to engineer technology with purpose, intention and impact.”
The reveal was starkly different from the company’s event at CES last year, when it showcased a vehicle that had just one seat, an oxygen mask for the driver and no trunk space. Analysts said at the time that the impractical concept car was merely about grabbing attention, and the onus was on Faraday to deliver something more tangible.
Since then, the company has struggled with key executives’ departures and doubts that it could afford a $1 billion production facility in Nevada. Construction was halted in November so that the company could invest in developing a production-ready car in time for CES, Reuters reported.
Founded in 2014, Faraday Future is owned by Jia Yueting, the Chinese billionaire at the helm of LeEco holding company. The outspoken chief executive has tried to position Faraday Future as a formidable rival to Elon Musk’s Tesla, Bloomberg News reports, but some suppliers and business partners now doubt LeEco’s financial security and allege that the company has fallen behind on payments.
Meanwhile, its competitors have moved ahead with the production of their own vehicles. Tesla produced 83,922 vehicles throughout 2016, a 64 percent increase compared with the year before, the company said Tuesday. Of those, 76,230 were actually delivered to customers, just shy of Tesla’s goal of 80,000 for the year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
California-based Lucid Motors, which has designed its own electric and autonomous sedan, dropped the curtain on that car in December. Executives expect the first Lucid Air will roll off the line in late 2018 at a production facility that the company plans to start building next year in Arizona. The Air’s initial price is expected to be more than $100,000. LeEco is also an investor in Lucid.
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