Indi EV says its car will be the 5G-connected office and playroom of the future. But it’s not clear whether the independent, largely unknown EV company – with a couple of court cases to its founder’s name – can pull it off.
At the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, would-be carmaker Indi EV unveiled to the public its flagship vehicle, an SUV called the Indi One. Under its bonnet, where you’d expect to find an engine, is a computer. One day, the company says, it will power three cameras, three dashboard screens and 5G connectivity, allowing users to work, take photos and videos, edit content, post on social media and play video games in their car.
“We have been focused on the content creation capabilities in this car,” said an Indi EV media representative at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday, where the company unveiled the Indi One as a proof of concept. “Take the constant connectivity with the Internet of Things and give it to the passengers. We wanted to build all of that into the car itself.”
The five-seater is sleek and comfortable, with a futuristic steering wheel and head-up display, plush seats, a panoramic roof and plenty of ways to slide the rear seats and customise the boot.
There are three displays in the front, each with a different function when they work. (The content shown on the screens at the car show was only a simulation). One screen faces the driver and shows typical driving information, such as speed and battery level. Another screen in the middle is for things like music and climate control. The screen in front of the passenger seat is for games and social media. It has two cameras that take pictures of the passengers and one pointed at the back seat. These recordings are streamed to the screens in front so that parents have a real-time view.
The integration of car, computer and content sounds great, does not it? But it’s a long road from vision to reality – one that other once-promising companies have tried and failed at.
Indi EV (or Independent Electronic Vehicles) is a company based in LA, founded in 2017. The company’s website is not particularly revealing about its governance, foundation and funding. Media outlets said Andre Hudson, head of design, and John Kennedy, head of the brand, led the charge. According to their LinkedIn profiles, Hudson previously worked in design for GM and Hyundai/Kia, while Kennedy held operations and design roles at several companies, including Audi, Ford and the struggling Faraday Future. The company’s chief people officer, Star K., also worked at Faraday and wore a Squid Game contestant’s tracksuit at the LA Auto Show.
At the show, Hudson said the company has its roots in-game engine development. The company’s founder is a businessman named Shi Hai, who previously founded Snail Games. Representatives said the two companies are “separate entities”. In its October coverage of Indi One, The Verge reported that Shi Hai and Snail Games are facing several lawsuits from former employees alleging “racist behaviour, poor treatment of employees and, in one case, wrongful termination and wage theft.”
Other red flags mark this company’s path to producing and selling a car. At the LA Auto Show, representatives said the Indi One would be launched in Q4 of next year. Media representatives later clarified that it was Q3 2023.
When Autos Community team asked about production partners and timelines, the company declined to provide details, except to say that it is “working with an overseas manufacturer to source select parts, and that general assembly of our cars will be completed here in Los Angeles.”
“We will announce production and manufacturing details at CES, but not before,” representatives said. (CES will be held in January 2022).
Several videos on the website feature the team and the vehicle, but the links to learn more take you to placeholder pages with dummy text. Also, at the LA Auto Show, the product specialist referred to the car as a “driving prototype”, but representatives later clarified that it is instead a “proof of concept” car.
“The prototypes for production (beta vehicles) are at our research and development facility in Los Angeles,” representatives said. “We will begin testing for production by the end of the year.
In the car at the LA Auto Show, not all the cameras were installed, and the computer and displays were not working, so Autos Community team could not verify how the computer interface works.
Indi EV has big dreams for its Indi One. It calls the “supercomputer” inside “VIC”, the “Vehicle Integrated Computer“. Hudson said the company is working on voice integration so drivers could say, “Hey VIC, show me the baby camera” or “Hey VIC, take a 30-second video,” or something like that. The company says this would provide a more integrated, authentic experience to capture the moments that happen in your car than relying on smartphones or tablets.
They also see the car as a workplace where you can hold Zoom meetings or a playroom. These multimedia offerings would appear on the screen in front of the passenger seat. The idea is not that you play while driving – yet. With genuine autonomy – which Hudson says is still a long way off for the industry as a whole – the car becomes a place where you work, post and play while you drive – that’s what the company is ultimately gearing up for.
Yes, that’s a big dream. Unfortunately, the Indi One “proof of concept” at the LA Auto Show did not make it seem like this dream could come true anytime soon. The CES is just around the corner! Good luck, Indi EV.
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