Workers lay concrete that will become a base for equipment that will be part of the assembly line of Faraday Future's electric car plant in north Hanford. As many as 250 workers will be involved in construction to renovate the former Pirelli Tire plant to build cars. Source: Faraday Future

published on June 15, 2018 - 12:33 PM
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When electric car startup Faraday Future announced in August of 2017 it would develop its first manufacturing plant in Hanford, city officials and a good many others were excited at the prospect of welcoming a new, potentially massive industry there.

But in the months that followed, that excitement waned for some, as not a lot happened with the 1-million-square-foot former Pirelli Tire plant on the city’s north end.

Add to that, company officials were sparse on details of their timelines and what was going on behind the scenes, while much of the news that was getting out about the fledgling car company didn’t exactly inspire confidence that any cars would be rolling out of the factory.

But those concerns turned out to be unwarranted, said Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle, noting that earlier this month major construction to turn the facility into a car manufacturing plant finally began in earnest, after the city awarded to Faraday on May 31 the permits needed to begin construction and installation of its assembly line equipment.

“I think we are well beyond the coin flip,” when to some it seemed that Faraday’s chances of actually getting a production line started were about even with its chances of folding.

“We’re well into a secured Faraday Future in Hanford. Where it may look from the outside like it’s taking longer than one would think, for us to have placed building permits in their hands in the shortest timeframe possible was a monumental, collaborative effort between Faraday Future, their architects and engineers and our building-safety and plan-check operation,” particularly when all this has involved taking a massive building constructed in the 1960s and developing a plan that elevates it to current codes and standards for a manufacturing site, Pyle said.

For his part, John Lehn, president of the Kings Economic Development Corp., said working with Faraday Future representatives all these months actually has boosted his confidence that Hanford will produce cars.

“My best frame of reference is those high officials in the company itself. And I’ve never seen a higher level of confidence than I have seen in the last three months. I believe there is a high level of confidence that the funds are there,” to keep the company going all the way to full production, Lehn said. “That’s why they’re moving so fast.”

“We appreciate the support given to us by the city of Hanford,” Dag Reckhorn, Faraday’s senior vice president of global manufacturing, said in a press release. “As of now, our on-site abatement, demolition, and refurbishment work has started, and we have ordered all the long lead-time equipment.”

It goes on to say that some production equipment already has been installed and tested.

“FF is also collaborating proactively with local Hanford institutions and agencies to ready the recruitment cadences and hiring efforts for the factory. Several local training programs have been designed, and hiring has already started,” it continues.

Faraday Future officials have said that at full production, the Hanford plant could employ up to 1,300 people.

Lehn said five community colleges in the Valley are developing training programs for job skills needed at the Faraday factory, and one at West Hills College in Lemoore is up an running to provide certified production certificates, preparing people to work in factories.

As for setting up the Hanford car factory, Faraday’s permit request puts the construction and installation costs at $10.5 million, though that doesn’t include the cost to purchase the manufacturing equipment, which is coming from suppliers around the world.

An official for Barnards, a Southern California-based construction company with a Fresno division hired to do the construction work in Hanford, reported that currently 80 to 100 employees are working at the site and that number likely will grow to up to 250.

As for how long the construction and installation work might take on the initial production area — which may be expanded in the future — Pyle said he has been told Faraday intends to roll out cars before the end of the year, while officials at Bernards put the timetable to finish the construction around the start of next year.

Of course, these are just estimates, as Bernards officials noted in an email that as the work goes forward they could encounter “a lot of unknown conditions” in a building almost 60 years old.

“The biggest challenge is that silica products cause airborne particulates which can damage car paint,” the email continues.

Still, though Faraday moves forward, it continues to be dogged reports of problems, many of which surface even before the company signed the lease for the Hanford plant.

For one thing, Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, who initially bankrolled the company on his own with an intent to bump Tesla Motors from its thrown in the luxury electric car market, had to withdraw a big chunk of that funding after stretching himself too thin and incurring massive debts — reaching $2.6 billion late last year, according to Forbes Magazine.

This prompted the startup to scrap its plans to build a plant from the ground up in Nevada and instead lease the existing plant in Hanford.

And the drama didn’t end there, as Faraday officials then had to begin seeking investors who could provide more than $1 billion in financing while also dealing with high-level executives in the company leaving on their own or being fired, some amid accusations that they stole intellectual property and data or tried to torpedo efforts to acquire new investors.

The image of Faraday being a shaky company wasn’t helped by news reports using “downtrodden,” “long-suffering” or similar adjectives to describe Faraday Future.

Despite all this, the company has moved forward with its plans, and it appears to have hooked a whale to provide the investment it needed.

Shi Ying, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, has agreed to invest the equivalent of $2 billion U.S. for a 45 percent stake in Faraday Future, the South China Morning Post reported in April.

The newspaper reported that Shi Ying is controlled by Hong Kong businessmen Chiu Tao, who also owns CST Group Limited, and G-Resources Group.

Some news reports say Faraday could have run out of money by the end of last year, if not for the offshore investment. Now the company is reportedly flush with cash, allowing it to go forward with its plans in Hanford.

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