New patents published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office show that Faraday Future was responsible for at least some of the design of the LeSee, an all-electric car belonging to Chinese conglomerate LeEco. A BuzzFeed News report from December originally surfaced the idea that LeEco, which is a major investor in FF, was using the American startup’s resources to work on its own electric car under the “LeSee” brand, but both companies declined to comment on the relationship at the time.
The patent publications appear to have changed that approach, though. Reached for comment today, a representative for FF confirmed that the company’s employees were responsible for these two particular patents, and that LeEco used them in the development of its car.
“FF and LeSee have agreements in place to share specific IP and technologies between the two companies,” the representative wrote in an email. “These design patents are two examples of work that were developed by Faraday Future and shared with LeSee via our mutual agreement for use across the FF and LeSee brands.”
One patent is for vehicle exterior design, and while it never mentions LeEco or the LeSee Pro that LeEco debuted in the US last October, the picture included in the filing unmistakably illustrates that car. The inventors named on this patent are Richard S. Kim, who is FF’s VP of design, and Brian Sung Oh, FF’s chief creative designer.
The other is for a steering wheel. And while FF’s former lead designer Charles LeFranc is listed as the inventor, the illustration in the patent filing clearly shows a steering wheel that bears LeEco’s logo. Both patents were filed in March 2016, one month before LeEco originally unveiled the LeSee in China.
Both FF and LeEco have been coy about the relationship that exists between the two companies. FF executives and representatives typically refer to LeEco as an initial or major investor, or a “supplier,” but executives from both companies have sometimes gone as far as saying the two are “strategic partners.”
Yet multiple outlets, including The Verge, have found that LeEco’s involvement in FF runs much deeper than just money. LeEco’s CEO, Jia Yueting, has had his hands in the operations of FF for a while now. In addition to being named last month to a “Global Executive Committee” at FF, Yueting was also given the position of “Chief Internet Ecosystem Officer” for the company, while SVP of Engineering Nick Sampson — the de facto face of the company — now answers to him, according to company emails seen by The Verge.
That this tangled relationship is happening at a time when the Chinese conglomerate has suffered major problems (like a botched $2 billion acquisition of Vizio) is a big part of why FF is struggling, sources close to the company say.
In July, FF backed away from its plans to build a $1 billion factory in Nevada. The news was announced just days after a Chinese court froze $182 million of Yueting’s assets. In the meantime, FF was left seeking $1 billion in new investment money. It has also leased an existing factory in Hanford, California, though only after using its Los Angeles headquarters to secure a $14 million “rescue loan.”