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E-car maker Faraday to roll by 2018

We've all heard of top e-car maker Tesla Motors. Now a new competitor, Faraday Future, is entering the market. The company says its first production cars will roll into showrooms in 2018.

In advance of the opening of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, the technology development chief of Faraday Future (FF), Nick Sampson, unveiled the company's first production car, dubbed FF91, and announced that production would begin in 2018.

Sampson probably didn't have to travel very far to make the announcement at the CES trade fair site in central Las Vegas. FF's e-cars will be produced at a facility Faraday Future is having built for it by engineering company AECOM on a site in North Las Vegas.

FF is clearly positioning itself as a competitor to Tesla, famed engineering entrepreneur Elon Musk's company. At the unveiling in Las Vegas, FF had its prototype FF91 race a Tesla Model S to determine which could go from zero to 100 km/hour faster. In the test, FF91 edged out the Tesla - albeit just barely, getting to 100 kmh just 0.01 seconds faster than the Model S. For now, though, Tesla remains the fastest-accelerating production e-car in existence.

USA CES 2017 Elektrowagen FF91 (Reuters/S. Marcus)

This is the prototype FF91 that was used to demonstrate record acceleration from 0 to 100 kmh at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday

The future is coming fast: Self-driving e-cars are the future

Also like Tesla, FF is preparing its production cars for a digital, autonomous-driving future. The FF91 will carry over 30 sensors for that purpose. At the unveiling, FF demonstrated the prototype FF91's automated parking function: the car sought out an available parking-spot in a parking lot, and parked itself.

Further enhancing Elon Musk's reputation as a hard-driving change driver, Tesla's drive into autonomous driving is driving the whole industry forward, with automobile companies around the world scrambling to catch up to the audacious industry leader's pace-setting driverless car technology. With FF seriously set on entering the same market with a similar self-driving smartcar strategy, the competitive forces driving change in automotive technology toward self-driving e-cars will further intensify - and that's a very good thing for the environment, given concerns over global climate destabilization driven by combustion of fossil fuels.

Tesla Motors e-car Model 3 (Reuters/Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motors e-car Model 3: it's one thing for Faraday Future to get into the high-end e-car market, but the real breakthrough will come when e-cars are affordable for ordinary families. That's what Tesla's Model 3 is meant to achieve

Chinese megamoney, US knowhow

Faraday Future, headquartered in Gardena, California, was founded in 2014. Its financial backer is LeEco, a Chinese consumer electronics company headed by dynamic 43-year-old billionaire Jia Yueting. Jia's main wealth comes from his 34.3 percent holding in Shenzhen-listed LeTV, a LeEco subsidiary similar to the US-based video-on-demand site Netflix.  

Under Jia's leadership, LeEco has been expanding rapidly into a portfolio of other businesses, including smartphones, sports media, and electric cars. In November, Jia wrote an internal letter to employees saying that he had overstretched the company's financial resources in so doing.

"Our pace is too quick," Jia wrote in the letter, according to Forbes.com, which had obtained a copy of the missive. "We over-stretched in global expansion, but our funds and resources are in fact very limited."

With a payroll of more than 1,400 employees and a production facility in construction, Faraday Future's future depends on Jia's ability to sustain the flow of funds to the e-car startup.

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Carmaker merry-go-round

FF's leading engineers and managers "joined FF from leadership positions across a selection of prestigious carmakers," the company's website says, "including Tesla, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Lotus, Jaguar, Chevrolet, and Ford."

Nick Sampson, Senior Vice President of R&D and Engineering at FF, was one of FF's originators. Prior to joining FF, he was the Director of Vehicle and Chassis Engineering at Tesla Motors. According to FF's website, "There [at Tesla] he created the complete concept for the vehicle architecture of the Tesla Model S and led the engineering team behind the Tesla Model X." Prior to his stint at Tesla, Sampson was Chief Engineer at Lotus.

Sampson's background may help explain why the prototype FF91 and the Tesla Model S had very nearly the same acceleration performance during their little race at CES on Tuesday.

Tesla Motors, too, competes for talent with other carmakers. The company has invested in German manufacturing know-how recently. 

(With material from dpa)

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