The Verge report on Faraday Future

Andrew J. Hawkins, writing for The Verge:

Before the tour, head of corporate affairs Greg Adams gave a presentation, where he said FF’s first production car would be “a super device that happens to have four wheels.” Adams went on: it was an electric car, but not one you would own, rather one you would subscribe to. It was a self-driving car, but also one you would summon using your smartphone for a ride-sharing trip. And it was a racecar, one that would compete in an upcoming Formula E race under the Dragon Racing team banner.

“The idea of the company is that we want to liberate everything you do when you’re with a device, how you move, how you breathe,” he said. “But in the end we’re all about liberation. Extreme liberation.” He has also said the company is also about “extreme technology.

A focus on everything is a focus on nothing. Adams' talk about one autonomous super device, incorporating 'extreme' technology, that can serve as a ride sharing, point to point vehicle whilst also being able to compete in a Formula E race sound like marketing buzzwords rather than any real concrete plan to create an electric vehicle.

Hawkins continues:

Additional reporting revealed that FF may have difficulty finding additional investors to stabilize its finances. According to former employees, FF is in effect not one, but two companies, with a separate entity based out of the Cayman Islands just for FF’s intellectual property. “If you’re an investor, you’re fucked,” one ex-executive said. “The company doesn’t own the IP.”

But another former executive disputed the notion that the separate company, FF Cayman Global, was bad for investors. “I don’t think IP being located in the Caymans is a bad thing for investors. It’s a bad thing for suppliers,” the executive said. In the event of a bankruptcy, the source said, the suppliers may not be able to file claims against the assets in an offshore entity like FF Cayman Global.

A large proportion of any company's value is made up of the Intellectual Property (IP) that it owns. For Faraday Future (FF), a newly established start-up that aims to differentiate itself through its unique, highly advanced technology and other innovations, its IP is the entirety of its worth.

Not owning the technology that you have purported to develop has serious consequences. Amongst others, a third party or other company (such as FF Cayman Global) with a stake in FF's Intellectual Property could exert undue influence or pressure on the company's R&D direction and the products that it brings to market. In a worst case scenario, FF's IP could be transferred to a competitor that could legitimately demand (and take legal action) that Faraday Future cease business operations out of infringing the competitor's IP. 

To put it bluntly, Faraday Future not owning its IP gives rise to a very large serving of scepticism regarding its viability as a going concern and as a sustainable business entity. Whilst FF deserves the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the talent they have employed, the company at present is as valuable as Monopoly money.

Tesla hires Volvo interior designer

Jonathan M. Gitlin, writing for Ars Technica:

Anyone who has driven a Model S or Model X also can’t help but notice the company’s weakest point—the terrible interiors. Evidently Tesla has realized this and has poached Volvo’s head of interiors, Anders Bell, in order to remedy the problem.

It’s not just a lack of design flair—although that is certainly true. It’s also the materials used, most of which would look out of place in an economy car in 2016, let alone a luxury SUV or sedan that starts out at more than $60,000. And this stuff is important. As a driver, the interior of a car is the bit that you’ll look at and touch almost all the time.

Acres of flat, black shiny plastic abound. The Model X central storage bin has cheap removable inserts for cup holders. And the cubby that lives below the massive touchscreen in the Model S? No one thought to give it a lip at the forward edge, so anything you put in there is headed straight for the back seat the moment you hit the accelerator. And that’s before we’ve touched on the Q&A problems—the last Model S the company let me drive had that cubby misaligned, so there was a half-inch gap at the upper left corner.

Yours truly has recently sat in a Tesla Model S, and whilst the technology on offer in the interior, such as the digital instrument cluster and expansive tablet-style touchscreen are seriously impressive, the materials used aren't, with obviously fake metal trim and plastic wood. 

It's unclear as to precisely what influence Anders Bell had in the interior development of vehicles like the S90, but this looks to be a great hire for Tesla. Volvo has recently been on a roll in creating stunning, honestly designed interiors. If Tesla can replicate Volvo's interior design expertise it will be a huge advantage for them.      

Alfa Romeo: Branding and Badging

Coinciding with the launch of the new Giulia, Alfa Romeo has undertaken a company wide rebranding initiative. This initiative has not only involved subtle changes in the firm's badge, but also the addition of a new company tagline, "La meccanica delle emozioni."

Above left and right: The old (1972-2015) and new (2015-present) Alfa Romeo logo.

In English, "La meccanica delle emozioni" translates to "The mechanics of emotion." 

On its face, this is a broad and vague slogan. As no-one wishes to drive what they perceive as a dull car, such a catchphrase could be applied to almost any automotive brand in the world. Manufacturers may market their vehicles as affordable, or safe, or reliable and durable, but none of those virtues are traded with emotion. A vehicle may have emotion omitted from its marketing, but it is highly unusual for it to be explicitly sold as dull. In this sense, a catchphrase such as "The mechanics of emotion" could be construed as subject to many interpretations and universally applicable, rather than something exclusive to Alfa Romeo.

In an automotive sense, emotion can include both the practical experience of actually owning and driving a car, as well as feelings generated by the marque's designs and historical successes and failures. This article will focus on how Alfa Romeo's history of car design, and branding, have made the phrase "La meccanica delle emozioni" apt for it to use.

Heritage        

Alfa Romeo's heritage is littered with depressing lows and soaring highs. Vehicles such as the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Giulietta Sprint were striking designs that stirred emotions, despite their contrasting approaches to styling.

Top: 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint. Below: 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal.

The Giulietta Sprint pictured above is a design that is timeless because it achieves elegance through its proportions and uncluttered styling, free from superfluous details, such as fins, that were popular in American vehicles at the time. In contrast, the Montreal is notable for its more flamboyant details such as the fake horizontal vents behind each door and the slotted grille above the headlamps. Regardless of their differing approaches to exterior styling, both vehicles presented memorable designs that arguably represented zeniths for the company.

Above: 1983 Alfa Romeo Arna.

Perhaps the most obvious example that helped stereotype Alfa Romeo's reputation as a maker of unreliable vehicles was the Alfa Romeo Arna. Borne out of a partnership between Alfa Romeo and Nissan, the Arna unfortunately combined the negative aspects of both companies, with Nissan's unremarkable styling and Alfa Romeo's poorly made engine, transmission and front suspension. With Alfa Romeo at the time being state owned, the Italian government directed that the vehicle be built in the poorer southern region of Italy in order to reduce unemployment and economically rejuvenate the area.

Whilst the economy of southern Italy may have benefitted from this decision, by employing workers unqualified and unskilled in automobile manufacturing, the durability of the Arna itself suffered heavily, with shoddy build quality and reliability. With prior models such as the Alfasud suffering from rust even on the production line, the Arna only served to exacerbate Alfa Romeo's newfound reputation of building beautiful pieces of junk.

In this sense, "La meccanica delle emozioni" is an appropriate catchphrase for the brand, as, when looked at holistically, it captures the experiences associated with these design successes and failures for Alfa Romeo.

Badging

Badging is another way through which Alfa Romeo attempts to be perceived as emotional. For Alfa Romeo, it also serves to create a key a point of difference from its German counterparts.

Fundamentally, this point of difference manifests itself in the dichotomy in naming models based upon body style and specification versus intention, history and emotion. Typically, German manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have followed the former philosophy, whilst Alfa Romeo has pursued the latter.

In the numerical BMW range, models based on odd numbers, such as the 1, 3, 5 and 7 Series are traditional sedans (or hatchbacks in the case of the 1 Series), while models based on even numbers, such as the 2, 4 and 6-Series are coupé derivations of these odd-numbered models. The two following numbers usually denote either engine size or specification level. For example, a 320d is a compact, smaller engine/lower specification sedan, while a 420d is a coupé version of the same vehicle.

Above: BMW 3 Series sedan (left) and 4 Series coupé (right).

Above: Examples of the various badges that BMW has used. Notice that they all largely follow an identical naming structure.

Whilst a numbering scheme such as BMW's quickly conveys to the consumer the body style, size and specification of the vehicle, it sheds little light on the intention behind it. A 320d is a compact sedan with a 2.0 litre diesel engine, but is it a sporting vehicle or a luxury vehicle, or both? What were the emotions and thoughts of the designers and engineers who developed the car? A logical model designation system gives no insight into these questions.  

Alfa Romeo in contrast personifies its cars through names. A name can be divisive and stir passions, but most importantly, it can signify intention in a way that a numerical designation cannot. 

A recent example of this is the newly launched Alfa Romeo Stelvio, named after the Passo dello Stelvio, or Stelvio Pass.

Alfa_Romeo-Stelvio_Quadrifoglio-2018-1600-04.jpg

Top: 2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Bottom: The Stelvio's namesake, the Stelvio Pass in Italy. Image credit Wikimedia.

The Stelvio Pass is renowned for being one of the finest driving roads in Europe. A mountain pass in northern Italy near the Swiss border, its numerous hairpin turns and stunning scenery make it a challenging yet rewarding test of the driver's skill and the vehicle's handling ability.

By using the Stelvio Pass as the namesake for its new SUV, Alfa Romeo reinforces the sporting intention of its new vehicle in an immediately obvious way. Stelvio is a famous, emotional and powerful name that boldly demonstrates Alfa Romeo's intention to make its new SUV outhandle and outperform anything else in its class.

On the flipside, personifying vehicles through names clearly obfuscates characteristics such as engine size and body style. If model names such as "Alfa Romeo Stelvio" and "Alfa Romeo Giulia" are listed on the printed page without any surrounding context such as a picture, the customer obtains little pragmatically useful information. For all they know, the Stelvio could be a sporty little convertible and the Giulia the brand's SUV.

Realistically, however, this is an implausible scenario. Customers research cars in many different ways, but they are all primarily visual, whether it be observing it in person, watching videos or looking at pictures of the prospective vehicle. Consequently, aspects such as the size and shape of the vehicle don't need to be explicitly mentioned in the model designation, as they are already immediately apparent to the customer. What may not be so obvious are the the thoughts, intentions and emotions behind the car, and thus a model designation should focus primarily upon clarifying these aspects of a vehicle.

Alfa Romeo does this best by using names that personify their vehicles, and thus truly highlighting the emotion of mechanics, or "La meccanica del emozioni", that is central to their cars.

Audi TT air vent design

The recently launched Audi TT is notable for its interior design, especially the unique design of the air-conditioning controls that are integrated into the air-vents:

Audi-TT_Coupe-2015-1600-47.jpg

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning) controls on the 2015 Audi TT  

This is an excellent design. 

Fundamentally, changing something like the A/C temperature or fan speed involves two senses. Sight is needed to observe what the currently displayed temperature is and to then adjust the setting. Secondly, touch, or more specifically, thermoception, is needed to 'feel' the new temperature or fan speed change and confirm whether the new setting is appropriate, or whether further adjustment is required.

Thus, this process usually involves a two-step action: manipulating the switch or dial to change the temperature/air-flow, and then placing a hand near the air vent to 'feel' whether the new temperature and air-flow is right.

Most car interiors reinforce this two step process by separating the air-vent and temperature controls and placing them in disparate locations.

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster. The HVAC controls are just visible at the bottom of the image.

An example of this is the Porsche 718 Boxster. Porsche takes a contrasting approach to Audi and places its HVAC controls almost diametrically opposite to the air-vents, with both being separated by the infotainment screen and the media controls. Consequently, this design enforces the rigid two-step process outlined above, by forcing the driver to physically move their hand between two different locations in order to ensure the correct temperature and airflow setting.

Audi's design, in contrast, is innovative because it elegantly and efficiently combines the disparate two step process in the Porsche and other vehicles. By integrating all necessary HVAC controls, including temperature, fan speed and airflow within the air-vent, the driver can simultaneously adjust the control and immediately feel the effect of their action, without having to physically move their arm.

While this may seem to be a superficial change, Audi's design has numerous benefits. Not only does it create a sense of harmony and visual symmetry, but by minimising the number of separate buttons and switches, it greatly reduces the potential for the driver to be confused or frustrated by excessive clutter and small, illogically placed controls. By streamlining a relatively complicated, two-step process into a single action, Audi's design could also potentially increase road safety, by essentially halving the time the driver spends with one hand on the steering wheel.

An innovative, refreshing and logical design that clearly moves the ball forward. Great work.