Former head of BMW i takes over as CEO at troubled Faraday Future

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The story of embattled electric-car startup Faraday Future has taken another turn. Carsten Breitfeld, who previously ran BMW i, will take over as CEO from Jia Yueting, the company said in a statement. The Chinese entrepreneur will become Faraday’s “chief product and user officer,” according to the company. Faraday said it is also seeking a new “global chairman.”

Breitfeld is no stranger to electric cars. As head of BMW i, he oversaw launch of the BMW i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car — two radical designs from one of the auto industry’s biggest players. Breitfeld also helped start Chinese electric-car startup Byton, and most recently served as CEO of another Chinese firm, Iconiq Motors. But he has his work cut out for him at Faraday Future.

Founded in 2014, Faraday initially attracted buzz with its plans to take on Tesla. It promised an electric SUV called the FF 91 that would feature cutting edge tech and supercar-rivaling performance. Backed by Jia Yueting — before he became CEO — and his LeEco tech company, Faraday signed a $1 billion deal with the state of Nevada to build a factory in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Le Eco’s flagging fortunes eliminated Faraday’s main source of funding, forcing the automaker to abandon plans for the Nevada factory and delay the launch of the FF 91. Executives eventually decided to repurpose a former tire factory in California as a scaled-down assembly plant, while Jia named himself CEO in late 2017. Around the same time, Faraday secured an emergency $2 billion investment from China’s Evergrande that kept the automaker out of bankruptcy. But the deal quickly unraveled.

Under Jia’s leadership, Faraday burned through the first $800 million installment from Evergrande ahead of schedule. Evergrande refused to advance Faraday more money, and asked Jia to distance himself from the automaker, according to The Verge. While Evergrande and Faraday fought in court, the latter laid off hundreds of employees, and co-founder Nick Sampson resigned. Evergrande eventually agreed to reduce its stake in Faraday, which was also freed up to find alternative sources of funding.

As Faraday has struggled, the field has become crowded with other electric-car startups. One-time savior Evergrande has invested in other automotive firms, while established automakers are rolling out their own electric cars. Faraday is a lesson that, Tesla’s success aside, starting a new car company is a difficult and expensive process with a high failure rate.

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