Faraday Future is struggling, to put it mildly. Can a new video of its not-so-well-received FF 91 electric car "on the road" excite onlookers and salvage the start-up before it sinks?
We'll get back to you on that.
A year of living dangerously
If you don't follow car news closely, you might've missed some of the stories about Faraday Future, few of which have painted the company in a flattering light. Here's a quick recap from the past year or so, festooned with fluttering red flags:
April 2016: Faraday Future--which has zero experience making cars--breaks ground on a massive, $1 billion, 3 million-square-foot auto manufacturing facility outside Las Vegas. Almost immediately, company reps begin backpedaling on previous vows to begin producing vehicles by 2018.
June 2016: Construction hasn't even begun in Nevada, but the company is already looking at sites for a second plant in California.
October 2016: Just a couple of months into its construction project near Las Vegas, contractors begin complaining that Faraday hadn't paid them the necessary deposits, much less for work that had been done. Faraday and the lead contractor try to put a brave face on things, but...
November 2016: Less than a month after Faraday's financial woes become public, work at the construction site grinds to a halt.
December 2016: Reports begin to emerge that Faraday executives are deserting like rats on a sinking ship.
January 2017: Faraday unveils its new FF 91 model at CES. The car fails to perform as it should onstage, and founder Jia Yueting fails to charm the audience. No one leaves the convention hall excited.
January 2017: Just a couple of weeks after CES, insiders report that Faraday is teetering on the brink of collapse due to serious cashflow problems.
January 2017: As proof of how bad things are financially, the company that created the graphics for its CES presentation sues Faraday for nonpayment.
February 2017: Faraday announces that it's scaling back construction and production plans in the U.S. Much of Faraday's planned automobile manufacturing is moved to Jia Yueting's home turf in China.
March 2017: Faraday's construction project in Nevada still hasn't re-started.
And that brings us to the present.
New video, new enthusiasm?
Yesterday, Faraday Future posted a new clip of its FF 91 electric car to YouTube. The minute-long video purports to show the vehicle on the road, but to us, it looks more like a well-done computer rendering.
That's not to say that the FF 91 isn't roadworthy. In fact, the real car was shown in clips at CES.
Nor is it to say that Faraday would be the first automaker to use a computer rendering in a promo video. Plenty of others have done so in the past, usually to drum up enthusiasm for new models.
The question is: can this video convince would-be Faraday fans that the company and the FF 91 are more than vaporware?
It's hard to say. The car looks better in the clip than it did onstage at CES, which could be a trick of the editing, or it could be the result of some design improvements. That's a plus.
Unfortunately, the video tells us absolutely nothing new about the FF 91, and that's exactly what we need before we'd be willing to reserve one.
Look, we have plenty of respect for start-ups. It takes a lot of vision, determination, and drive to make something out of nothing--whether that something is a scarf crocheted by your grandmother or a Chinese-backed electric car company. So, you know, kudos to Faraday employees for putting themselves out there.
However, we haven't seen much to give us hope that Faraday Future has any of the staying power necessary to compete in the U.S. auto market in any significant way (though it could always become a niche player). Its vision of electric, self-driving vehicles seems uninspired, or at least indistinct from other companies working on those same vehicles. Jia Yueting comes across as a speed-loving bro with money to burn. And most importantly, the two Faraday models we've seen have been...well, "inspiring" isn't the word we'd use to describe them.
Maybe things will change. Maybe Yueting can fix Faraday's problems, get the company back on solid financial footing, hire new designers--or at least approve marketing language to explain in concrete detail why consumers should consider cars like the FF 91 instead of competing vehicles like the Tesla Model S.
Maybe he or someone else can do all that, but we have a hunch that time is running out.