Faraday Future has yet to provide anyone the opportunity to say anything strictly positive about it this year. Even today, when there is the seed of good press stemming from a recent teaser video of its FF Prototype, the company remains mired by new allegations that highlight just how absolutely wrong everything about it appears to be.
A mountain of debt, an unsettling corporate structure, mounting lawsuits, staff abandonment, and problems with suppliers all coalesce to paint a grim portrait of the company as it draws nearer to its important reveal at January’s Consumer Electronics Show.
However, the details of a recent media expose wouldn’t look out of place in a sitcom.
Since we last looked at Elio Motors, the startup that plans on selling an 84 mpg, $6,800 tandem reverse trike to people looking to replace 15 year old beaters, there have been a number of developments involving the company. To begin with, the start of production has been pushed back until the beginning of 2015. Though Elio had originally announced that production would start in Q4 of this year, there were delays in finalizing the real estate deal for the former General Motors assembly plant in Shreveport, Louisiana where Elio plans to build their vehicles, including assembling their own engines (whose preliminary specifications have been announced). There have also be some changes to the car’s design as it gets closer to production, with a fourth prototype being introduced. Finally, Elio has announced how they will market and service the vehicle. Like Tesla, they will be setting up factory owned stores to sell directly to customers. Those stores, though, won’t be providing service.
Elio Motors is one of those automotive startups that raises all sorts of flags that makes some people think that it’s a scam, or at least on shaky financial ground. Almost every bit of news from Elio has been greeted with some skepticism, understandably ( here, here, and here). They’re planning on selling a three wheel vehicle with a composite body that gets amazing gas mileage. Those facts alone remind people of the Dale scam, and the failed Aptera venture. Also, they’re taking deposits on a vehicle whose design has not been finalized, a year away from production, and that evokes memories of Preston Tucker, who had his own problems. Then there’s the financing plan that Elio says will allow people currently driving beaters, the working poor if you will, to get a new car with a warranty just for what they’re currently paying for gasoline. When you buy the $6,800 tandem two seater reverse trike, whatever balance there is after your trade-in and/or deposit is applied will go on a credit card. Monthly payments will be required to pay down the balance but the way Elio is pitching it, when you use that credit card to buy gasoline (and some other purchases) instead of being billed for the actual cost of the gas, you’ll be billed 3 times that amount and the difference between the actual price and the billed price will be used to pay off the car.
Why 3X the price of gas?
When is it a good time for a CEO to step down from an automotive company? This year we’ve already learned that ditching mere months before a major IPO was not a great move for GM CEO Ed Whitacre. But that surprise drop-out may just have been topped by CODA Automotive’s Kevin Czinger, who just resigned a month before his firm starts sales of its very first vehicle. The firm is in the midst of its pre-sales marketing, and is also currently pursuing $125m in financing from Morgan Stanley and others, making this a highly unusual time for a CEO to leave. Czinger, a Goldman Sachs alum, was crucial in bringing investments to CODA from other Goldman alums, including former Treasury boss Hank Paulson and John Bryson. Czinger will stay on as an adviser to the firm, as co-chairman Steve Heller will take over as interim CEO and COO. Earlier this year, Czinger called the CEO position his “dream job” (see video above).
Speaking to MarketWatch at the Detroit Auto Show, Tesla Chairman Elon Musk apparently just revealed that the Tesla Model S sedan will be released “within two and a half years.” Which is interesting considering Musk claimed that production would start in 2011 at the Model S launch last March. But then, Tesla is still trying to decide on a factory location, apparently waffling between former aeronautical manufacturing locations in Downey and Long Beach. And apparently Tesla’s mere consideration of a brownfield site in Downey has drawn protests from a group calling themselves The Raging Grannies.
According to Detroit lore, Henry Kaiser once loudly threatened to throw one hundred million dollars in 1940s money towards the greater glory of Kaiser Motors, drawing a bemused chuckle from GM Chairman Alfred Sloan who quipped “give the man one chip.” Fast forward to 2009, and Coda Automotive, a firm hoping to sell Californians a $45k EV-ified Hafei Saibao Sedan, just scored $25m in funding reports Earth2Tech. That gives the firm a total of $74m raised so far, although the current round of funding won’t closed for another few months, say spokespeople. The latest money, from Aeris Capital, will be spent on “final safety certification testing,” as well as scaling up battery production. In short, Coda is almost-not-quite all the way to one chip in the car game… but that’s still only good for one roll of the dice. Even the weakest automakers have many multiples of that sum in their Treasury escrow accounts. And even the allegedly “bailout free” automakers get to raise debt with a little help from their government friend, TALF.