LAS VEGAS—“We have an amazing team, a transformative vision, incredible alliances and we are very fast." So said Nick Sampson, the ex-Jaguar, ex-Tesla, senior vice president for product at Faraday Future. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a would-be disruptive electric car startup that, with Chinese money, is building a billion-dollar factory to challenge Tesla in hard-hit North Las Vegas. Shovels begin moving dirt in a few weeks, Sampson said.
What Faraday unveiled in a tent on a rainy night at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was a platform and a car to go with it. One inspired some confidence; the other didn’t.
It makes sense for a startup auto company to use a single modular platform on which to build several models. The Tesla Models S and X share underpinnings. Faraday’s Variable Platform Architecture (VPS) allows for big and small battery packs, a range of wheelbases, and everything from a compact car to an SUV.
OK, so given the range of options, did it really make sense to introduce the brand—and the platform—to the world with a way-out, retro, single-seat Batmobile that Adam West would happily pilot? (The absence of a place for sidekick Robin could be seen as a virtue.)
The FF Zero 1 Concept was styled by Richard Kim, a very competent guy who styled the (only slightly wacky) BMW i3. He called the FF Zero “an electric dream car,” and when he described his vision to colleagues, they told him, “We could put that on our platform right now!” But just because they could, doesn’t mean they should.
Sorry, but the head-frying glass-domed concept car screamed Future Vision ’68. There were probably good reasons they didn’t let the press close to the thing. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, undoubtedly glad to see something going up in North Las Vegas, said he was “very impressed.” Asked if he’d want to drive one of the company’s products, he said, “Maybe someday.”
Writing off Faraday on the basis of one concept would be unfair, though the rambling digression by its rich Chinese TV executive funder, Jia Yueting, wasn’t confidence inspiring. Do certain billionaires have an Elon Musk complex? Showing a car that the company (which has been coy about its products for a long time) could actually produce would have made a lot more sense. Remember, this is the company that wants to change mobility forever—that starts, probably, with a practical car people would actually buy. This one was fanciful even by supercar standards. Let's hope the reports are true and Faraday is testing a real automobile behind closed doors.
By the way, Elon did not “do it this way.” No embarrassing concept cars reside in that company’s closet.
Bright Ideas From Bosch
What if a touch screen could touch back? Volkmar Denner, chairman of Bosch's board of management, introduced the company's new products, one of which is a screen that, despite being flat glass, gives users the illusion they are pushing real buttons. That's a big help in distracted driving, because you can "feel" the button without looking at it. "To operate the radio, you barely have to take your eyes off the road," Denner said.
At CES, the screen of tomorrow was installed in a two-seater sports car at the company's booth. It was stylish; maybe Faraday should borrow the design. The Boschmobile also reminded me of Volvo's autonomous car cockpit, Concept 26, as seen at the Los Angeles Show.
Other technology included an aftermarket system to equip your older car with emergency alerts in case of an accident. The Retrofit eCall system records the crash and alerts the medical authorities. In the company's community parking concept, sensor-equipped cars are able to detect signals from free spaces to reduce the gas-hogging circling that Ford is talking about. Bosch hopes to have fully automatic parking by 2018.
Ford’s Connected Future: Wanting a Piece of the Pie
Mark Fields, Ford’s president and CEO, made an early appearance at CES Press Day, predicting that 2016 will be a “revolutionary year, with major breakthroughs that change the way we live.”
He was full of statistics about the way we live, and drive, now: Some 1.5 billion commuters around the world spend 50 minutes on average every day in transit. There are 800 million parking spaces in America, and people spend an average of 20 minutes hunting before they find one open. That’s about 30 percent of urban traffic congestion. And I loved this one: About two thirds of fast-food purchases are made daily by people inside their vehicles. Imagine pulling up in the Faraday Zero 1 Concept at the McDonald's drive-in window!
At CES, Fields noted that the transportation services industry (moving people around) is bigger than selling cars—in fact, totals $5.4 trillion—and he wants a piece of that pie. “We’re getting none of it now,” he said. The company has 30 smart mobility experiments going on around the world, including an innovative ride-sharing pilot in London. Ford is also investing $4.5 billion in electric cars, and has 13 new models debuting by 2020.