The world got its first look at the Faraday Future FF 91 SUV during a Las Vegas drag race last week. It was a fitting debut for a car that was designed and built in less than two years: It flew off the line in an event building, only to disappear out of sight a moment later. Everyone likes a good race, but for a company that's recently been hit by financial troubles and departing executives, the race it started at CES needs to be a marathon.
A few days after its hyperbole-infused press conference in Vegas, the automaker announced it had secured more than 64,000 pre-orders of the FF 91, with priority reservations costing $5,000 a pop. That's an impressive feat when you consider most of those orders are from people who watched a livestream and have never actually seen the luxury SUV in person. It was a defining moment for the company -- so much so that after all the pomp and circumstance, Faraday Future might just make it after all.
As you walked into the press conference, it was hard not to think of the reports of the suppliers not getting paid. Open bars and extravagant backdrops are the norm at CES, but this seemed like something more. The holding area for the event's attendees echoed Tesla's launch events, with a generous spread of food and drink. Basically, it resembled a party where someone had accidentally invited a bunch of disheveled reporters, too. But once everyone was allowed into the main room with its stadium seating and huge on-stage screen, you had to wonder if maybe this was a sign of desperation. A company so concerned about recent articles that it was overcompensating.
But then I realized, this is the Faraday brand. It wants to exude luxury not just with the FF 91 but in everything it does. If you want the rich and famous to buy your car, you have to show them you're as lavish as they are. That means playing by the rules of the uber-rich.
Although it's mind-boggling that during its lengthy press event, Faraday never once talked about the price of its car (oh, and it will be pricey thanks to the breath-taking amount of technology crammed into the SUV). But as the old JP Morgan quote goes, "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it."
What the company itself can't afford is any sort of delay in the building of its Nevada factory. It not only has to put up the actual structure; it needs employees, machines, suppliers and shipping infrastructure. A hiccup in establishing any of those departments and its 2018 production timetable will get pushed to 2019 or later. If the FF 91 is delayed, the automaker will have to start refunding some of those deposits. Yes, it needs cash, but it also needs to be smart with it. Investors will be watching.
That includes the biggest backer of all. As the FF 91 officially rolled onto the stage for the first stage, the person behind the wheel was YT Jia, chairman and founder of LeEco. He never mentioned funding, but his appearance seemed to infer that Faraday would continue to be funded by Jia's company. Or at least continue to have a very cozy relationship.
The press (myself included) spent most of the event rolling our eyes at the over-the-top extravaganza of the Faraday Future FF 91 unveiling. It didn't help that the automaker's financial and executive woes would cripple any company. For a startup building a car, they could be lethal. Those reports lingered in the minds of every reporter in attendance as the SUV failed to auto-park on stage. But the rest of the audience (not counting well-placed employees) -- the ones with the money and clout to keep the automaker afloat -- clapped and cheered.
At CES, the company seems to have impressed the millionaires and billionaires interested in a luxury SUV that makes the Model X look like an entry-level Honda CRV. Or at least 64,000 of them. That's a huge win for the company. Of course it could still fail. Building a few prototypes is tough, but scaling that to mass production while building your own factory from the ground up is nearly impossible. CES helped Faraday immensely. If things continue like this for the company, it has an excellent shot putting a car on the road.
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UPDATE: Original article noted that factory was being built in Arizona. It is actually being built in Nevada.