First Look: Faraday Future FF 91
An inventive and interesting EV built by a company with an uncertain future
GARDENA, California — Look past the foreboding swell of issues in front of Faraday Future — its acting CEO recently jumped ship, following a slew of defecting senior executives, and the company is supposedly sitting on a pile of past-due bills — and try instead focusing on the automaker's first car, the FF 91, which just made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The FF 91 is a long, low, and luxurious four-door EV with distinctive looks, overwhelming connectivity, a list of tech features that will raise the pulses of geeks everywhere, and a 0-to-60-mph time under 2.4 seconds, which has us hot and bothered. We visited Faraday Future a little while back to walk through the company's SoCal office, sneak a peek at the FF 91, and take a ride in a "beater-level" prototype.
"We are about extreme technology, we create from the future perspective," says Nick Sampson, senior vice president of engineering and R&D. He says he'll feed us bits and pieces of Faraday Future's story so as "not to overwhelm" us; it's "complex" and "complicated" and "there's just so much to get across." Sampson says Faraday Future is designing vehicles for users, not owners, in order to "liberate people's lives." He anecdotally mentions that only a century ago, people were feeding hay to their horses, not filling their cars with gasoline, and Sampson thinks Faraday Future is positioned to catalyze and produce a technological and cultural shift like that today, starting with the FF 91.
While this will be Faraday Future's flagship model, it won't be all that different from other forthcoming models since all Faraday Future vehicles will share a similar construction. Packaged into the floor pan are "strings" of battery packs. The 91 has six, but most models will require fewer. A vehicle's wheelbase can easily extend or compress depending on how many strings it uses and the car's crumple zones will grow or shrink concurrently. High-application parts, like castings, will be common across all vehicles, allowing for an "extremely diverse range of vehicles" that will vary not only in size but shape. The all-wheel-drive FF 91 is powered by three electric motors — one up front, two in the rear — while more modest models will make do with one or two. (Faraday Future tells us that a four-motor vehicle would be possible with mild structural modifications.)
"We were building the plane while flying," says Richard Kim, vice president of design, as he stands in front of a huge, 20-foot-wide screen. "A lot of fancy guys from fancy studios came here to nothing." Kim says this is the first car designed in virtual reality. The team at Faraday Future fully embraced designing in virtual reality in order to develop ideas as quickly as they could come up with them. A StereoScan 3-D modeling system allowed the design team to do rapid prototyping and modeling, and then position a digital model of the 91 in a virtual "arena" to let the design team walk around and interact with a car that didn't yet exist in three dimensions. "To design a car for someone who might not have a driver's license...that's challenging," says Kim, noting that the next generation of automobile users will "care much more about the back seat" than they will about driving.
A video starts on the 20-foot-wide screen, giving us our first look at the 91. In the back of the car is a pair of fully reclined zero-gravity seats. (A fold-flat bench seat will come standard.) The fully glass roof as well as the side windows are made out of Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal, which means you can darken the glass simply by touching it. There are cameras mounted to the bottoms of both side mirrors, and the mirrors and housings are removable since they won't really be needed if and when autonomy takes over. We catch a glimpse of a set of active-aero wheels with spokes that move and shut at speed, but when asked, a rep from Faraday Future says we probably won't see those anytime soon.
"A lot of our effort goes into optimizing the cooling system," says Angus Lock, senior manager of aerodynamics at Faraday Future. We peer over his shoulder as he flips through intricate airflow and heat dispersal graphics rendered after wind tunnel testing in Indianapolis. Lock says final testing will take place at a facility in North Carolina that has a "moving ground" test area, which gives aerodynamic engineers valuable information about how wind is moving in, through, and around the wheels. Lock's desk sits in the middle of a tightly packed, bustling scrum of peers. To the right is the design team, and just ahead is the team in charge of crash testing. The 91 is being built to meet global crash standards, so it's essential for the team to use computer-aided engineering to speed up the development process and keep development costs down; the crumple patterns for the front "crush cans" during digital and physical testing are almost identical.
We walk down a well-lit stairway and end up at a small station set up with LCD screens of various sizes. A portly man with small glasses tells us that the 91 will be "the most connected vehicle in the industry", one that enhances "your digital lifestyle." There's a camera in the B-pillar for facial recognition and iris detection, dubbed Arrival Interface, which will be used for Faraday Future's "FFID" digital personalization system that tailors a car to your settings regardless of which seat you plop down in.
A high-resolution rear-view system uses three cameras and precludes the need for a conventional rearview mirror. There's a large, fold-away screen in the back seat, and almost all displays inside the car can be swapped out for a bigger size or better resolution. Frameless doors open with a ping from your phone's Bluetooth system, and an electromagnetic brake in the door strut will keep the door from automatically closing prematurely.
The 91 uses an Ethernet system instead of the typical CAN bus you find in most modern cars, allowing for near broadband levels of connectivity. Some circuit boards come from suppliers, some are created internally, but all controllers work together to get info to and from "the cloud" as quickly as possible. Faraday Future says the 91 will aggregate the strongest cell signals from various carriers and combine them into a signal stream. (How they plan to do that is a mystery to us.)
The FF 91 has all necessary functionality to be fully autonomous, made possible in part by its retractable 3-D LiDAR system, a first for a production vehicle. LiDAR functions as part of a complex, multilayer digital ecosystem that employs 10 high-definition cameras, 13 short- and long-range radars, and 12 ultrasonic sensors. The LiDAR literally rises up out of the hood when the FF 91 is swapped into autonomous mode because while mounting it to the roof would've been great for seeing a long way, "it can't see what's a foot in front of your car", according to Sampson. The system allows for a Driverless Valet parking feature, which enables the FF 91 to park itself after a user exits the vehicle.
Since the FF 91 will be driving itself from time to time, Faraday Future got inventive with exterior lighting design that would be "part of communication between the user, the car, and its surrounding environment." A unique frontal lighting display wraps around to both rocker panels and can change color and intensity depending on what mode the vehicle is in. Faraday Future notes that this is not a requirement and does not fall within existing safety standards, so it is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to come up with "best practices" for exterior lighting on autonomous vehicles.
We walk into the building's basement and see a BMW X5 s35i and a Lincoln MKZ, both covered in dust. The main engineering shop, four miles from here, is home to 12 finished prototype vehicles and the bodies for 20 more. Here at headquarters, Faraday Future tests the hardware and tooling that will be produced and used in its main manufacturing facility, which is currently being built just outside of Las Vegas. (For example, each and every battery cell that comes from supplier LG Chem is individually tested to maintain quality.) Faraday Future has snuggled up to suppliers to help create a highly robotized infrastructure for its Vegas shop, where everything from body paint to motor assembly will take place.
The interior permanent magnet motors used in the FF 91 uses were internally designed at Faraday Future. The oil-cooled integrated units use a whole lot of copper in order to reduce resistance and physical size while optimizing power density. Peak output for the FF 91 is 783 kW, which equates to some 1,050 horsepower. The 130-kWh string of battery packs allows for up to 378 miles of range, as long as the user doesn't try the 2.39-second 0-to-60-mph crack too often. While it would be wrong to think of the FF 91 as a performance car, it has a low center of gravity, a rigid body structure, air suspension with semi-active dampers, and rear-wheel steering, so don't discount it; a quick ride in the back seat of a "beater-level" FF 91 prototype has us amped to get behind the wheel, if that day comes.
It's easy to be enticed by levels of technology, luxury, connectivity, and performance that the FF 91 offers, but it's hard to look past all the potholes on Faraday's road to production. (A thoughtful and carefully executed car can't sell itself, you know?) Fully refundable $5,000 reservations are now being taken for the FF 91 on Faraday Future's website (www.FF.com). The first 300 customers will be invited to upgrade to an exclusive launch series, the Alliance Edition, and the first Alliance Edition model will be auctioned at a gala in March. Full-on production for FF91 is slated to start sometime in 2018. We hope the FF 91 takes off, seeing how it offers a stimulating glimpse at the automobile of tomorrow, but one wonders if Faraday Future's "future perspective" may be too radical for today's market.