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Faraday Future Sounds Like a Superhero Team—And Maybe They Are

With an all-star group of former Tesla employees, the mysterious new car company is setting out to transform the auto industry

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Faraday Future, known simply as “FF,” isn’t just another electric-vehicle manufacturer named after a 19th-century scientist. Its founders intend to usher in a whole new era of automobiles. For now, however, the company that started just over a year ago remains cloaked in secrecy. They’ve yet to name a CEO or reveal who’s footing the bill, though they describe their funding as “ample.” They’ve also yet to divulge anything more concrete than vague hints about the cars they plan to build, confirming only that they’ll be electric and part of a full line of products, not just one model. 

While it’s not much to go on, the collective resume of the team they’ve assembled has fueled wild speculation. The roster of hires reads like an automotive greatest hits of the past decade, with talent responsible for the engineering, manufacturing and interior design of
the Tesla Model S, design of the BMW i3 and i8, interior design for Ferrari and power-train development for the Chevy Volt, to name a few. If one thing is clear, it’s that this isn’t some fly-by-night upstart kludging together a venture capitalist’s napkin sketch.  

And they’re moving quickly. Nick Sampson, former director of vehicle and chassis engineering at Tesla and one of FF’s founding members, started working out of his home office in May 2014. By the end of the summer, the company had grown to 20 employees and acquired
a former Nissan R&D facility in Gardena, California. A year later, the company now has over 400 employees and is adding 50 more per month. FF’s head of design, Richard Kim, an industry veteran previously of BMW i Design, remembers his first days after signing on this past March. “I was here by myself, and I was kind of like ‘Oh, my gosh, what did I do? This is crazy,’ ” he says. “When you work for an established manufacturer, everything’s in place—its tradition, its heritage. I imagined this is what it must have been like when the big companies got their start a hundred years ago.” 

In Faraday’s headquarters, millions of dollars worth of machinery still sits wrapped in plastic, and there’s a constant ruckus—not from building cars, but from framing walls. Kim’s handpicked team—Page Beermann (head of exterior design), Pontus Fontaeus (head of interior design) and Sue Neuhauser (head of color, material and finish design)—have just returned from the Frankfurt Auto Show, and they remark that there are at least 10 new faces in the hallways since they left last week. In the midst of the bustle, several tantalizing, car-shaped forms sit draped in black cloth emblazened with the “FF” logo.

For most manufacturers, the time from initial sketch to cars rolling off the line can be up to seven years. FF is cutting that development cycle in half with plans for their first launch in 2017. And despite the schedule, the group is teeming with enthusiasm. “This is the job I’ve been training for my whole life,” says Fontaeus, who apart from an extensive background designing interiors for Volvo, Ferrari and Land Rover, has also recently redesigned an airline’s business class interior. “There are some designers who need a brief, a foothold. And then there are designers like these who have a pioneer spirit and don’t need a safety net. We’re actually better when we can create from nothing.” 

The rest of the team agrees that what excites them most about the project is the blank canvas. “The automobile has gone through a hundred years of iterative design. It’s become baroque, very frilly and overstated,” says Beermann, former creative director at BMW design. “We want to back off from that to simplify things and really look at what the pure experience is.” Fontaeus raises the bar even higher. “We want this to be the first car where you actually feel better after sitting in traffic for two hours.”  

At their previous employers, this ground-up approach simply wasn’t possible, and the designers felt relegated to the role of embellishers, beholden to a brand legacy and a rigid corporate chain of command. FF’s “co-development” strategy was the main attraction in taking a leap of faith. “We’re not doing styling, we’re doing design here,” says Neuhauser, the former senior automative designer of color and trim at Tesla. “We’re working side-by-side with the engineers to solve problems.” 

Although short on details, what they will concede is that the frame of reference informing their process goes well beyond cars—even toward reevaluating the very nature of ownership itself. Companies like Uber have made owning a car less of a given for Millenials than it has been for past generations. A subscription model, like those used by cellphone carriers, is being closely examined as an alternative to the conventional ways for cars to reach the consumer. “When you buy a phone you get the hardware for free, you can use it for whatever you want, and it can kind of do everything,” Beermann says. “So what if you had access to a range of products, where you buy one car but you’re actually accessing five different kinds of cars?” 

Auto manufacturers are facing a range of open-ended questions like this, from autonomous cars to zero-emissions and beyond. Now the industry is holding its breath that Faraday’s team, given the green light to work untethered, may just start coming up with the answers.

Main photo, clockwise from top left: Sue Neuhauser, Richard Kim, Pontus Fontaeus and Page Beermann.
Hair and make up by Erin Moffett using Kate Somerville at Jed Root. 

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