Faraday Future’s big CES unveiling of its first production car, the FF91, was over-the-top in many ways, but nothing typified the company’s trouble bridging the gap between hype and reality than the moment when the company’s main Chinese investor pressed the button to prompt the car to park itself… and nothing happened.
Minutes before, the company had shown off live video of a camouflaged prototype parking itself in the lot outside the venue in downtown Las Vegas. The moment went off without a hitch, but when the car was asked to perform a similar move on stage in front of hundreds of skeptical on-lookers, the FF91 got gun shy.
“As a new baby, she’s very very timid,” said Nick Sampson, vice president of engineering. A short time later, the car got over the nerves it was apparently facing earlier, and began to inch across stage with no one in the driver seat — but the damage was already done.
Compounding the embarrassment was the fact that the car went on the fritz under the watchful gaze of Jia Yueting, founder of LeEco, billionaire, and FF’s main investor. Many of the questions about FF stem from Jia and his undefined control over the California-based company. So for the car to fail under his touch is a moment rife with corporate symbolism.
After the event, Sampson tried to explain why the car failed during such a crucial moment. “It’s a complex situation,” he said. “We knew there were technical challenges. If you look up at the roof of this building, there’s a lot of structure up there that inhibits some of the signals the car needs to be able to self drive.”
A reporter asked if the car was being operated via remote control, a reference to a previous report exposing LeEco’s use of remote control to operate its LeSee concept car. “If it was on remote control,” Sampson scoffed, “then the person controlling it would have corrected that.”