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Troubled Faraday Future unveils a 'new species' of automobile. Is it already extinct?

You may have heard about the exotic new super-fast, highly connected, ultra-luxury electric car called the FF91. 

It’s more than a car, says its maker, Faraday Future: It’s “the first of a new species” that combines green transportation, autonomous mobility and top-flight digital entertainment.

It looks like something out of science fiction. Faraday’s finances carry a whiff of fiction, too. Despite grand plans, there’s a good chance that no more than a few prototypes of the FF91 will ever be built, unless the company comes up with new money, fast.

The Gardena based start-up unveiled the FF91 at the CES convention in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. Chock-full of former executives from Tesla and more traditional automakers, Faraday Future was supposed to put Los Angeles on the map as an emerging center for high-end electric cars capable of driving themselves.

But the secretive operation, backed by a colorful but controversial Chinese Internet billionaire, is running out of money and has lost a slew of top executives in recent months. Work has ceased at its factory site in North Las Vegas. 

There’s no factory there, not even a building foundation, just several flattened acres of bulldozed and graded desert floor. The company owes the construction company tens of millions of dollars.

Faraday insists that it is moving ahead with its car plans.

“Despite all the naysayers and the skeptics, we will persist,” said Nick Sampson, senior vice president of R&D and engineering, a former Tesla executive and Faraday’s public face. “You look at the ultimate goal of the company. We have the team focused on that.”

A year ago, Faraday was at the same tech convention in Las Vegas, where it showed off the Batmobile-esque FFZERO1.

But unlike that concept car, the FF91 is intended to actually be built for and sold to customers. 

Designed and engineered in Gardena, it is equipped with three electric motors, facial recognition software that will open the doors for you, seats that massage your body and outlets that provide aromatherapy for the harried commuter.

The company isn’t talking prices, but does not dispute expectations that it will cost well over $100,000.

Although the car and its details were finally revealed this week, little is known about Faraday. 

The company was formed in 2014 by Jia Yueting, a digital media billionaire whose fortune, according to Forbes, has since plunged.

Late last year, work ceased at the $1-billion assembly plant the company promised to build with state subsidies in Nevada. Then Faraday stopped paying its bills to the lead contractor, Los Angeles-based Aecom.

The only hope for Faraday is that Jia, or some other investor, comes up with major cash soon.

How likely is that?

“We have a diverse investment strategy behind us right now,” a company spokesman said. “That’s all we’re going to say.”

Jia himself showed up at the Las Vegas event in a black hoodie. He also talked about a “new species” that will take advantage of a “globally shared Internet mobility ecosystem” to connect people, with an electric powertrain that will “restore the blue sky” to the world’s polluted cities.

Faraday has never named or talked about who actually heads the company or who sits on its board of directors, if there is one. But key employees have been trickling away from Faraday since the beginning of last year.

In December, the company’s recently hired high-profile global brand manager quit: Marco Mattiacci, former head of Ferrari North America. Within weeks, the company’s Global Chief Executive, Ding Lei, was rumored to be gone. Almost nobody outside the company had heard of him, in the U.S. anyway. 

Also mysterious is Faraday’s connection to Jia’s company, Leshi Internet Information and Technology Corp., and its LeEco auto division.

Faraday claims 1,400 employees from “more than 30 different countries, with 60 unique languages spoken,” but its financial lifeblood comes from China.

Jia set the company up at a 124,000-square-foot building in Gardena, once a Nissan branch but more recently home to an apparel company, Fang Fashion.

The company’s secretive nature fed the skepticism of Nevada’s state treasurer, Dan Schwartz, who said he would not release hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies until the company posted $75 million in performance bonds, which it has yet to do. 

But employees seem proud of what they’ve engineered thus far. “The financial part of our company doesn’t affect our work,” said Richard Kim, head designer.

The FF91 is designed “from the inside out” to put special emphasis on roomy back seats that resemble a sleeker version of a dentist’s chair. (The car is longer than a 1985 Lincoln Continental.) The seats recline amid a surfeit of video screens and embedded electronics.

“It will connect with anything and everything,” with personalized streams of information and entertainment based on each occupant’s digital record, Sampson said. The car will also snag the best cell signals available in any given moment to provide high-speed Internet access.

It’s got side panel lights shaped like the Faraday logo that flash blue to let pedestrians know that it’s being driven in autonomous robot mode.The car has 10 cameras, 13 radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a lidar unit that looks like a hockey puck that rises from the hood when the robot takes over.

It packs 1,050 horsepower and will blast from zero to 60 mph in 2.39 seconds, which the company calls a new world record for a “production” electric vehicle. Its range will top anything on the market — 378 miles on a 130-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Or so the company says.

Faraday announced Tuesday that customers can put down a refundable $5,000 deposit to buy a FF91, which will help cash flow a tad. When the car might be available the company did not say.

Potential customers can also get in line to buy a launch edition named Alliance to be available in 2018. Vehicles in those small numbers don’t need a full-fledged factory to build. 

Whatever the future of Faraday, the unveiling gave executives and engineers a chance to show off their work. Previously, the vehicle had only been seen, rarely, in black camouflage.

The design certainly veers from tradition.

“There’s weird pretty and weird ugly,” Kim said. “We went for weird pretty.”

russ.mitchell@latimes.com

Twitter: @russ1mitchell


UPDATES:

2:45 p.m. Jan. 4. This article was updated with additional details on Faraday's executives and finances. It was originally published at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 3.

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