Skip to Content

A Mysterious Electric Carmaker has its Sights on Tesla

Electric motors, like the one in this Tesla Model S, have gas engines beat in just about every category there is, a former Tesla drivetrain developer says.Electric motors, like the one in this Tesla Model S, have gas engines beat in just about every category there is, a former Tesla drivetrain developer says.
Electric motors, like the one in this Tesla Model S, have gas engines beat in just about every category there is, a former Tesla drivetrain developer says.Photograph by Jasper Juinen — Bloomberg via Getty Images

There’s a mysterious car company lurking in the shadows that has its sights set on Tesla. The trouble, however, is determining what it is and whether it’s really a threat.

Faraday Future announced on Thursday that it plans to spend $1 billion on a U.S. manufacturing facility to build electric vehicles. Faraday has yet to announce the location of its facility, but the company’s senior vice president, Nick Sampson, said that the effort—if it comes to fruition—is “just phase one,” indicating that more, similarly major investments may be coming.

Word about Faraday leaked out in July when Motor Trends revealed its existence. The company was actually founded in 2014, according to the report, and plans to have electric vehicles on the road in 2017. Oddly, Faraday didn’t announce its founding, and few in the car industry even knew it existed. Yet by July, it already had 200 employees.

From day one, Faraday has been coy about its intentions, to say the least. It is unusual for the car industry, in which car design work and permitting for production facilities can take years of planning and are difficult to conceal.

Faraday, which is based in Gardena, Calif., outside Los Angeles, now has 400 employees, double what it had in July, and says it will expand to 500 employees by the end of the year. And the very fact that it hopes to spend $1 billion on a facility before selling a single car suggests it would need significant cash. True to form, Faraday declined to say who its backers are, if any.

Faraday has yet to reveal what its electric vehicles will offer, how it will achieve its goals, and what its cars will look like. The company’s site says only that it believes “today’s cars do not meet today’s needs” and shows the silhouettes of what appear to be two sedans.

“What sets us apart from other automotive companies is our talent and nimble, unencumbered approach,” Stacy Morris, a spokeswoman for Faraday Future, told Fortune. “We are taking a user-centric, technology first approach to mobility, and are positioned to deliver new forms of transportation that better fit the way people live today.”

When pressed on what the future will look like for Faraday, she would only say that the company isn’t “ready to share our long-term goals yet.”

The company clearly is gunning for Tesla, the luxury electric carmaker founded by CEO Elon Musk. Indeed, some of Faraday’s top executives are former Tesla managers. Sampson was a former director of vehicle and chassis engineering at Tesla. Faraday’s head of global manufacturing was the director of manufacturing at Tesla. Faraday has even poached its vice presidents of human resources and supply chain from Musk’s company. According to the Motor Trend report, the company also employs a “boatload of former Tesla employees” across its lower ranks.

Companies jumping into the electric vehicle market are nothing new. Nearly all of the world’s largest car makers, including General Motors (GM), Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz, are pushing into the market. Other startups, like Fisker, have also tried their luck in a space that has been largely dominated by Tesla, Nissan, and Chevrolet.

What makes Faraday odd, however, is its secrecy and claims made to Motor Trend that it has been able to secure massive amounts of cash to fund a company that is virtually unknown. Faraday is even keeping critical facets of its business, including any investment partners, out of the spotlight. On his LinkedIn page, Marcus Nelson, a former Salesforce marketing director, who now serves as Faraday’s head spokesman, says the company has received “millions in government incentives and tax credits.” It’s unclear exactly how much cash he’s referring to, its source, and how it may be used.

Beyond its promises and claims, Faraday, in other words, is a ghost.

Meanwhile, Tesla (TSLA) is on pace to sell 52,000 cars this year and the electric vehicle market seems poised for growth. Whether the market is big enough for a new competitor is unknown. And whether the market is ready for a competitor that keeps nearly all facets of its business in the shadows is an even bigger question mark. Success in the automotive industry, after all, requires equal parts image and product appeal. So far, Faraday has neither and no immediate desire to change that.

But Faraday’s ambitions don’t just stop with making cars. The company believes the car business is fundamentally broken and is currently exploring “other aspects of the automotive and technology industries, including unique ownership models, in-car content and autonomous driving,” Morris says. Once again, Morris provided no further details on what that may look like.

So, what exactly is Faraday? It’s hard to tell. The company has a basic website, a few social media posts, and promises of unique and groundbreaking electric vehicles. It claims to have hundreds of employees. As for funding, all we know is that one employee claims it has secured government funding. Is the mystery a way to drum up interest in its brand? Or is it part of the company’s desire to stay under Tesla’s radar?

At this point, given the mysteries surrounding the company, anything is possible. And we may just need to wait two years before we get a real answer.

For more about Tesla, watch this Fortune video: