High-performance electric vehicle

Jon Lawson

Louise Smyth reports on the new EV concept that’s setting out to disrupt automotive design forever

When Faraday Future (FF) unveiled its FFZERO1 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, it was no surprise that it garnered comparisons to the Batmobile. However, what’s under the sleek, glossy exterior of this concept vehicle is equally as interesting to those with an interest in automotive engineering. FF is using this high-performance concept vehicle to introduce its modular platform technology, the proprietary engineering platform on which the concept is built. And the firm has big plans for this technology.

FF is a California-based tech start-up that’s not short of funding from its Chinese backer, the internet TV provider LeTV. The FFZERO1  is the company’s first ever concept. It’s a high-performance electric vehicle (EV) built upon the firm’s Variable Platform Architecture (VPA), which the company describes as, “a modular engineering system optimised for electric vehicles, on which all future FF production vehicles will be based”.

The VPA is designed to enable FF to minimise production costs yet deliver exceptional quality and safety, as well as dramatically increase its speed to market. The company believes it could easily support a range of vehicle types and sizes. 

At the CES event, FF also announced a strategic cooperation with LeTV that will enable it to benefit from LeTV’s expertise in content and technology. The two companies will build advanced EVs by bringing together resources from the following four domains: technology; automotive; internet and cloud; and entertainment content.

Commenting at the show, Nick Sampson, senior vice president, R&D and product development, said: “What we’ve announced illustrates the strength of our team, vision, partnerships and speed. We’re a forward-thinking company focused on the future of mobility, but we also share a passion for driving and performance. On our platform, electric vehicles will not only deliver on sustainability, but will be seamlessly connected and exhilarating to drive.”

The announcements at CES came hot on the heels of the reveal of FF’s plans to invest US$1 billion in the creation of a three million ft2 manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas and plans to ultimately employ 4,500 people.

FF has set out its mission statement quite clearly: “We believe that today’s cars do not meet today’s needs. FF seeks to redefine the automotive experience and could deliver smart, electric vehicles and usage arrangements that will fit the needs of tomorrow’s population.”

To kick off these rather ambitious plans for world automotive domination, the firm intends to offer premium electric vehicles that deliver, “intelligent, seamless connectivity to the outside world”. It has also stated that it is developing other aspects of the automotive and technology industries, including unique ownership models, in-vehicle content and autonomous driving.

Richard Kim, FF’s chief designer has revealed that the company will launch one car at first, then add another six to its portfolio. Of the concept shown at CES, Kim says: “The FFZERO1 Concept is an amplified version of the design and engineering philosophies informing FF’s forthcoming production vehicles.”

Connectivity at core

FF is adopting a policy of user-centric design within its product development approach. The firms says the FFZERO1 concept has a ‘sixth sense’ for its drivers’ needs. It features adaptive personalisation, seamless transfer of custom vehicle configurations, access to live images and real time data visualisation.

The company has directly integrated the smartphone into the steering column, which is says represents the intersection of technology and automotive engineering. This set-up could even enable the smartphone to serve as the interface between the vehicle and the driver in – and outside – of the car. Its makers have also suggested that the FFZERO1 concept could be fully autonomous.

Regardless of how this initial concept will evolve, it’s the Variable Platform Architecture (VPA) that is grabbing attention in the automotive engineering sphere. The VPA was designed and engineered specifically for EVs and will be used as the foundation for future FF products.

The VPA features a skateboard-style chassis that can be adjusted by changing the lengths of the rails and other relative structures to accommodate the number of battery strings per each configuration. FF cites a number of structural benefits to the design as well, such as larger crumple zones that improve safety by centralising and protecting the battery pack.

The VPA has strings of batteries that can be more easily replaced or changed than a single battery. On this platform, adding or subtracting strings will enable the creation of vehicles of varying sizes with more power or greater range.

It also incorporates various motor configurations. Ranging from a one-motor to three-motor configurations, it is possible to modify vehicle characteristics, including rear-, front- or all-wheel drive systems, extended range options and various power outputs, all using the same chassis architecture.

Design from inside out

Another of FF’s core philosophies is to design from the inside out. The FFZERO1 concept’s interior is primarily white with a carbon fibre finish, which its maker describes as, “a pure and extremely clean aesthetic atypical for combustion engine race cars, but reflective of a clean, quiet EV”.

Inspired by NASA research, the single-seat configuration offers a comfortable, weightless body position, holding the driver at a perfect 45-degree angle, thereby helping to promote circulation.

The propeller-shaped, asymmetric instrument panel is a theme that will be incorporated into future designs. The panel runs seamlessly into a Halo safety system with integrated head and neck support, oxygen and water supply fed to the driver through a prototype helmet. The system could also gather biometric data about its driver.

The exterior of the concept has, naturally, received a great deal of attention from those with an interest in automotive design. FF says that its design team experimented with new driver-focused proportions, using lightweight materials and composites, pushing the canopy forward for a perfectly aerodynamic teardrop profile. What it describes as FF’s soon-to-be-signature “UFO line” runs around the centre of the vehicle, the idea behind this being to give the impression the vehicle “is not completely of this world”. On a more down-to-earth note, aero tunnels run through the interior length of the vehicle, allowing air to flow through the car rather than around it, dramatically reducing drag and improving battery cooling.

Finally, there is no doubt that performance has been given as much consideration as looks. Featuring four motors, one at each wheel, FFZERO1 is built for its use case: the track. FF has gone on record saying that if it is developed for limited production, it will have more than 1,000 horsepower and will accelerate from 0-60 in less than three seconds, with a top speed in excess of 200mph. Not just a pretty face then.

The people behind the concept

The team at Faraday Future (FF) is composed of more than 550 employees of diverse backgrounds spanning the automotive, technology, energy, aerospace and design industries. Its leaders include a number of well-known names in the automotive sector. Nick Sampson, senior VP, R&D and product development is the former director of Vehicle & Chassis Engineering at Tesla, as well as working for the likes of Jaguar and Lotus in senior product development roles,. Dag Rechhorn, who is VP of global manufacturing also came from Tesla. Other Tesla personnel who have made the move to FF are Alan Cherry, VP of human resources and Tom Wessner, VP of supply chain. Heading up FF’s global design team is Richard Kim, a founding member of BMW i Design and who more recently managed the design team for special programs & group design for Audi, Bentley, Porsche at the VW Group Design Center in California.