Faraday Future is planning to deliver an electric car FF 01 built on a modular platform. Faraday Future, or FF as its executives would really prefer you call it, is going to make electric cars. They’ll look and drive pretty much like conventional cars. These facts are not in dispute. As I laid out in a previous blog, there’s little about FF that’s especially innovative, and when it comes time to launch an all-new company, that’s a big problem. FF solved it by playing the automotive media like a fiddle.
FF is planning to deliver an electric car built on a modular platform, and it will most likely compete directly with Tesla not only in function but also in price. Although the idea of another all-EV automaker on the market is inherently cool to some car fans, nothing about FF’s plan is particularly revolutionary and as such isn’t likely to garner a ton of interest from consumers or media. Sure, it’ll get a few headlines, but it’ll struggle to escape the skepticism and cynicism of an automotive media that’s seen a hundred other startup automakers come and go and of a consumer market more interested in what it can buy now than what might be available in a couple of years.
Up against a wall like that, how do you generate real attention for your fledgling company? By making everyone wait. By feeding the media just enough information to make your company sound interesting without giving away the game.
Six months ago, no one had ever heard of Faraday Future. The company contacted us out of the blue, and we wrote the very first piece about this mystery Tesla competitor. By the time FF reached out to us, it had already hired hundreds of people and was well into the design and engineering of its first car. There was never any flashy announcement about the founding of the company. Heck, they wouldn’t even tell us who the founder was. Everything about the company was shrouded in mystery. FF gave us just enough details to ensure it would sound like a serious competitor, not just another doomed startup peddling vaporware.
With the hook cast, FF went dark. Interviews were few and far between. There were no official press releases. Any legitimate information about the company came out in a trickle, and with little new to talk about, the rumor mill went wild. Some suggested FF was actually Apple in disguise. Others thought it might be disgruntled Tesla employees looking to settle a score with Elon Musk by beating him at his own game. No one knew, and FF wasn’t talking. The company’s founder was only discovered by digging through public documents. FF still hasn’t commented on it.
Then the teasers started. An image. A video. A brief announcement that a concept car would be unveiled at CES. After months of rumors, the news was gobbled up, and more rumors followed. When the sheet finally came off, it was front-page news everywhere from Motor Trend to USA Today.
It didn’t matter that the car FF showed didn’t keep any of the promises the company had made about reinventing the automobile. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t even a real car but was instead a wild race car concept that will never be built. It didn’t matter that FF hadn’t answered many of the looming questions about what it will actually sell to the consumer and how. The hype machine demanded coverage with any and all available facts, no matter how sparse.
From FF’s perspective, it was a brilliant gamble. The company bet, correctly, that withholding information would make people naturally curious. This curiosity would drive speculation, which would draw in more and more people who might not have normally been interested. After all, people love a good mystery. Playing on human nature and the predictability of the automotive media, FF attracted far more attention than it would have by traditional means. Rather than try to keep up with the news cycle, FF created its own news cycle by doing almost nothing. The big gamble, though, is that the rumor mill will have created so much interest and awareness of the FF name that we’ll all overlook that the big debut was underwhelming. More than that, FF is gambling that its name has been burned into our collective consciousness now and that the next time it makes an announcement, we’ll all come running back rather than sit rolling our eyes.
Even the decision to show a pipe dream concept car was a clever ruse. After all the promises and rumors, yet another crossover would’ve been a letdown. We’ve all seen crossovers before, and they’re not sexy. Sure, that’s what FF will actually be selling, but it’s not exciting. A ridiculous race car from the future? A Batmobile for the year 2050? That’s a car that’ll get splashed all over the Internet. People who don’t care about cars will click on that just to see what it is. So what if it had absolutely nothing to do with what FF is promising? It got your attention, and FF is betting you’ll forget all about its incongruities and contradictions the next time the company decides to make an announcement.81 PS
Credit where it’s due, FF’s plan worked perfectly. It got all the big media coverage it wanted. Everyone has heard of FF now. Even the skeptical reporters still covered it and couched their worries with reassurances from FF spokespeople that everything’s fine. Everyone’s waiting to see what FF will do next, supporters and detractors alike. Will the company continue to be secretive and hope the same trick works twice? Will they switch to a different game plan now that the cat’s out of the bag? Does it matter? For the near future, at least, everyone will hoover up any FF news, good or bad. Well-timed releases could keep the rumor mill and hype machine going long enough for FF to actually put a car on the road if they do it right.
It’s an incredible triumph of style over substance, and we should’ve all seen it coming. Perhaps some did but didn’t want to be cynical with so little information to go on. Will we be once bitten, twice shy when the next FF comes along? Or do startups deserve the benefit of the doubt? Here’s hoping we all find a way to walk the line between healthy skepticism and outright cynicism in the future. We owe it to ourselves not to be played by clever marketers looking to hock a shaky new product.