Suddenly, wealthy people are not investing in wineries anymore. Nope, if you have tons of cash sloshing around in your bank account, the plan du jour is to hire a bunch of people with great resumes from Tesla and start your own electric car company selling ultra-expensive electric automobiles to other wealthy people. The thinking is that if enough really rich guys buy enough high end electric cars, the hoi polloi will find out about it and demand electric cars of their own. Hey, it’s a plan.
In a statement on its corporate website on November 5, Faraday Future, an electric car startup located in Gardena, California, announced that it is planning to spend a billion dollars to construct a “state of the art” manufacturing facility in either California, Georgia, Louisiana or Nevada. The factory will build Faraday’s ground breaking, game changing, disruptive, you ain’t never seen anything like this before, electric car.
The announcement goes on to say, “In addition to producing vehicles, the company plans to explore other aspects of the automotive and technology industries, including unique ownership and usage models, in-vehicle content and autonomous driving.” Richard Kim, head of design for Faraday, says, “You have to be a little bit brave to do something like this.” Kim has previously worked at BMW, Porsche and Audi. “We are going to make intelligent vehicles. We’re building a brand.” As Sundance once said to Butch Cassidy, “Who are these guys?” Good question.
The announcement set off rumors that Faraday Future is really a front for Apple. There is absolutely nothing to confirm that except for the name of the company, which is a not so sly dig at Tesla Motors. Both Nikola Tesla and Michael Faraday were early pioneers in electricity. It wouldn’t be out of character for Apple’s Tim Cook to use such a linguistic device to send a coded message to Elon Musk saying, “We are coming for you!” And the timing is right. Apple has dropped hints that if it is going to build its own car, it would like to start selling it in 2019. That’s not so far away. If someone is serious about building a completely new factory to build a completely new car by 2019, the time to get started is now.
According to the LA Times, the California Secretary of State lists Chaoying Deng as the company’s CEO. She is also in charge of a US company affiliated with Leshi Internet Information & Technology. And who is behind Leshi? That would be Jia Yueting, a Chinese entrepreneur who owns LeTV, a company known as the “Netflix of China” and purveyor of smart phones and high end televisions within China. He is listed by Forbes as China’s 17th wealthiest person, with a personal new worth of more than $7 billion.
Earlier this year, Jia told the Wall Street Journal that he wanted to develop a car that would rival Tesla. The Times spoke with an unidentified vendor who said Faraday hasn’t made any secret of its origin or its plans. “They told us right off that this is China’s response to Tesla,” he said. Jia is also the fellow who told the world back in August that he was financing Le Supercar, a luxury electric sedan. That announcement was accompanied by nothing more than an artist’s sketch. Leshi said it had hired Tony Nie, formerly a senior executive at Lotus Engineering China, to head up development of the car. Interestingly enough, the only visual evidence we have for the Faraday car is a similarly vague artist’s sketch.
For now, the company is operating out of a former Nissan sales facility, where reportedly 400 or more people are busy working on…well, whatever it is they are working on. In October, Ding Lei, the co-founder of Leshi’s auto division, said that the company’s first electric vehicle, called the “Mule Car,” has completed testing in the U.S. According to China Daily, Ding suggested that small scale trial production would begin soon.
Faraday’s senior vice president is Nick Sampson, who previously was in charge of vehicle and chassis engineering at Tesla Motors. “It will be a halo vehicle that will establish our brand and identity as we move forward into a larger range of vehicles that fill the need of a larger population,” he says. But the question is, will the head that wears that halo belong to Tim Cook or Jia Yueting?