Nick Sampson is the senior vice president of product research and development at Faraday Future. As one of the founders of FF, Nick is responsible for all technology and engineering development, overseeing their integration across all aspects of our vehicles.
What was the founding principle behind FF? Was there a ‘big idea’ or draw that lured you to join FF?
There was not really a single big idea behind FF. Rather, there were three things that drove the original ideas. One was electric drive, [which] is the best form of drive for vehicles in the future. Electricity is something that is sustainable [and] renewable.
Also, connectivity: Our lives are becoming much more digital, much more connected, [but that wasn’t] happening in the world of cars and mobility. Our lifestyles are changing, and a part of the big thing behind FF was to meet those needs of the future.
Finally, we needed to be able to do these things in a way that would give us a large volume of vehicles. That’s where the idea of the VPA (Variable Platform Architecture) was born: to have an architecture that we can use and underpin many platforms in many vehicles.
How did you first get involved with FF?
I first met Y.T. [Jia] of LeEco three years ago. We sat down and talked about his ideas, his vision for the future, [and] where he saw connectivity and people’s lives changing. I brought along to that how I see people’s lives, electric drive systems, and vehicle platforms changing for the future. Three years later, look where we've come. [We’ve] grown from just a few people talking in an office to now having nearly 1,500 people working globally.
Where did you get your start in the automotive business?
I’ve been interested in cars from childhood and have been interested in speed [since] I was young. Being told off by my parents for racing soap box carts down our street. Risking whatever it took to get down the hill even faster. That same mentality is with me today. Throughout my career, I’ve liked pushing boundaries, setting hard goals, and really pushing to achieve in both the mainstream auto industry and the racing world.
Do you see a through-line in your career? What brought you from your early days racing at Race Tech to Jaguar to Tesla?
When I was at Jaguar, much of what we were doing for the road cars, the technologies we were using, and the simulations we were doing, were more advanced than the racing world. I took that learning and tech from the road car world and took it into the racing world using a combination of digital and real world techniques.
There are several areas we use both [in the] virtual and real world together, like crash analysis where we can do the digital analysis, test how the vehicle will crash and be damaged in an accident, match that scenario in the real world, and then put it back into the digital world. You keep swapping from one to the other and that way get much quicker results.
Did you ever think from your past experiences that you’d one day be helping to lead an electric mobility startup?
When I first started, it was gasoline and high-performance cars. You’d just put more cylinders on or add a turbocharger! But once I started getting into the electric drive world, I realized the clear advantages and benefits to the product, for the customer, and for society. Electric drive is the future. We can generate forms of electricity in so many sustainable ways, whether that be through light, wind, hydro, waves, or tides – this is a better solution.
One of my earliest real experiences with electric cars was when I was at Lotus, we helped a local school on an EV project. As part of a challenge they had to build an electric car that was supposed to last for six hours [in] a relay race. It was inspirering to see their enthusiasm. Their car managed to get the national record for the speed and time it would run for. At Lotus, we built electric-drive Elises, and later we worked with a company called Tesla, [which] built an electric car based on the Elise. A few years later, I joined Tesla full-time to work on the Model S program. Since then, smart, electric-drive vehicles have been my priority.
What’s the cutting edge in mobility these days? Have you always been interested in those subjects?
I think the cutting-edge of mobility falls into two areas, really. One, is all to do with the interior and the user experience. How you interact with the car and the connectivity of the car, and how the car can become much more ingrained in our lifestyle – not just the moments we are in the car.
The second is in the electric-drive systems — the motors, inverters, and power electronics that go with the drive system — [and in] getting the cost and efficiency of those improved. The unique way we’ve gone developing the battery architecture – It’s very easy to change the size of the battery pack and not have to redevelop the pack and spend a lot of extra engineering time and money. The motors and drive system are also unique in their modular approach, allowing us to deliver different power levels by adding more motors, instead of completely new engines.
[What is] the most significant challenge you’ve faced at FF?
Challenges have been multiple during the first three short years at FF – building the company as a whole, recruiting the right people, creating a culture and environment that inspires innovation, and allowing the people who joined to fulfill their dreams and help us develop great products.
It’s been great having a clean sheet of paper and doing things from scratch, and doing things without any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing or any traditions of how we go about doing it. That’s been an enabler. The big challenge has become in trying to do so much, so quickly.
Does it really feel like 3 years?
It seems like three years, and in other ways, seems like 30 years! It has gone incredibly fast in some respects, and when I look at what we have achieved, it is astounding what's been done. It’s the next three years that we’re really looking forward to.
What’s it like to work at FF? What makes a Faradian a Faradian?
The best FF employees are people who relish having a challenge. We want to empower people to get on and do things, [to] take risks, and [to] push the limits. If we look at motorsports, there hasn’t been a world champion who didn’t at some point crash or spin out. That’s the sort of philosophy in our employees – pushing to their limits. And, if they make an occasional mistake, that’s how we know they are on the limit all the time. We want people that will be pushing and be comfortable working on that edge.
What’s your biggest/proudest accomplishment, thus far?
The proudest moment at FF was at CES earlier this year, when the team as a whole really pushed, working over Christmas through the New Year, to make sure we can be standing on that stage, presenting FF 91 for the first time to the world. It was a great moment.
It's amazing – the group that we have collected. The most sensational team I have ever worked with — and I have worked with some great teams and some great companies. At FF, we have managed to put together something even better than any of those, and I am so proud to be part of this team.
What do you enjoy the most about your typical day at FF? What does your typical day involve?
That’s what is great about a typical day: no day is typical! Every day is new; every day is a challenge. I get into work and start working with the teams, reviewing the CAD work that’s being done, the engineering that’s being done, [and] the designers in the studio. Just seeing the multi-faceted team working together makes it a great day.
What’s the most impressive or significant thing about FF 91? What does FF 91 represent to you?
It's really just such an ultimate vehicle in so many forms, [and] so unlike anything before. We have performance [that’s better than] many of today’s supercars. [It has] the luxury and seating combination in the back that could rival Singapore Airlines’ first-class experience. We have combined both of those elements and added in the technology for connectivity, to create that seamless connection with the rest of your life. We’ve pulled together so many worlds – old traditional automotive worlds with the new digital worlds.
What drives you every day?
One thing that makes me proud is not just FF, it’s all those surrounding FF. It's the families, it's the friends, it's the suppliers that have stayed with us and supported us. These are all truly are our partners. That has been really staggering. Since we announced we are three years old, I’ve had numerous contacts from all over the world congratulating the team on what has been done. They cannot wait to see FF 91 out there and on the roads.