In the electric vehicle (EV) world, 2018 is shaping up to be the year of Chinese electric vehicles and global startups. China is doing everything it can to establish its international brand in this arena — perhaps the hottest new consumer market of the 21st century. It makes us wonder how the West will react? Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, GM, Daimler, and others have strong statements on electric vehicles and autonomous ones at that, but how prepared are each of them to genuinely compete?
Another Chinese startup getting into the game is Byton. Byton decided to jump on the back of the hot SUV trend but reframe it a bit. It is starting with an “SIV,” or Smart Intuitive Vehicle. Here are some quick specs:
- 0–100 km/h in 5 to 6 seconds
- 150 kW electric motor on front wheels
- 200 kW electric motor on back wheels.
- 60 kWh “Entry Level” battery pack — 350 km (200 miles) of range
- 90 kWh “Extended Pack” — 500 kilometers (310 miles) of range
- Autonomous level 3 (L3), upgradable to L4 and eventually L5
- 300,000 yuan (~$45,300)
Can Byton Be An International EV Brand?
There’s no shortage of new EV startups this year and we can safely predict 2018 won’t be any different. So exactly what makes Byton any different from other EV hopefuls?
As with most EV startups these days, Byton is present internationally — in three countries. It operates with a slim 400 employee base. Its global ambition matches that of most other startups. Byton spent the last 18 months incognito as the nondescript “Future Mobility Corporation.” It is now making its world debut. However, Byton wants to differentiate itself from other Chinese EV startups by saying it isn’t another Chinese EV brand fighting for international recognition. It insists it isn’t another German automaker wannabe, nor some fashionable Silicon Valley startup or copycat. But Forbes points out that, it’s a bit of all of the above.
Byton — International, With Big Aspirations
As with most serious startup contenders, Byton has a key ingredient going for it — Chinese investors. In its official Santa Clara unveiling, Byton president & co-founder Daniel Kirchert and co-founder & CEO Carsten Breitfeld said that the company wants to become a premium brand. Kirchert is the ex-managing director of Infiniti China. Breitfeld was the former head of BMW’s i8 program.
But do the aspirations match the finances? Byton hopes to deliver an annual production of 250,000 to 300,000 EVs fairly soon. Byton is betting on early economies of scale in production, something that has mired more than a few EV startups in the past. In order to achieve that, the company teamed up with Bosch for the electric motors, but it hasn’t yet announced a battery maker. This leads us to think it is still in talks with the big three in that field (Panasonic, LG Chem, and Samsung SDI). The company said it would engineer its own battery pack. It started production back in September 2017.
As far as finances, Byton announced a new $1.1 billion facility in Nanjing, China. It hopes to quickly reach an annual production of 100,000 EVs in its first year, with three different models soon to come. It hopes to ramp up production to 300,000 soon after. So far, it has received a $240 million Series A funding round (this past summer) and is actively seeking more.
Is Byton (Again) More Talk Than Delivery?
It’s hard to say so far how serious or well equipped this ventrue is, but the company just released ambitious international plans with Chinese financial backing, a production site, and an EV to produce.
Kirchert was quoted as saying: “We were both very clear … We have to do this in China for China, but it was very clear this has to be a global brand. I’m very convinced that building a brand which has the ambition to be a premium brand — Tesla has built a premium brand, or BMW or Audi — has to be global. There are very few examples of a local brand which is considered premium in this industry. I think that’s both true for Chinese consumers — a Chinese consumer will not put a purely local brand on a similar level as a premium brand — as for U.S. and European customers.”
So far, Kirchert and Breitfeld have reiterated that China is pursuing its global brand recognition projects quite strongly. This global brand focus is a goal for the company in 2018, according to CarNewsChina. Something we can all agree on is that China, both in terms of customers and manufacturing, is an undeniable part of the international automotive landscape. We’d be hard-pressed finding one vehicle on the road that doesn’t have one component or another made in China.
And Kirchert is not shy saying that the company will “use China’s advantages in terms of being a big market and an excellent place to do high-quality manufacturing, but at the same time … have to integrate the resources from Germany to do it.”
Henrik Wenders, Byton’s vice president of marketing, says the focus is on the user experience. Although this sounds like what NextEV, now NIO, has been touting. He continues with: “In the next 100 years, it’s not about drivers and passengers: It’s about users. Every single seat in a vehicle is going to be equally important,” which is something we are happily starting to hear more these days.
Byton SIV Looks & Technicalities
As to what the EV will look like, so far we have teasers and a hint that the platform will have a much longer wheelbase than a normal car. The accent is once again on the interior experience, with a flat floor with bigger rear seating space. This is something we’ve come to expect with modern, futuristic EVs.
In order to be an internationally recognizable brand, you need something that is unique and, well, recognizable. Byton hopes its 8-inch visual unit built into the dashboard will be its interior trademark. It will be able to accept touch, voice, or gesture controls. The company calls it the Shared Experience Display (SED).
The electric Byton will reportedly have FWD and AWD options. It will make use of a 150 kW electric motor driving the front wheels and 200 kW behind. As far as battery size, two options will be available — one rated at 60 kWh with a range of 350 km (200 miles) and a 90 kWh option, called the “extended pack,” that should give the Byton about 500 kilometers (310 miles).
It will also come with a level 3 (L3) self-driving system using lidar and millimeter-wave radars. It will be upgraded to L4 and eventually L5 in the future. An interesting technically we spotted was that the Byton will have an all-around steering wheel reminiscent of the 1980s Citroen AX system. The company is developing a superfast charger to give it 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) of range in 10 minutes.
What’s In A Name?
As you might suspect, Byton is a play on words that is designed to be recognizable in both English and Chinese. Byte On, which the company says conjures “bytes on wheels,” pulls from our combined Internet age. As far as Chinese, it means “worship” and “rising.”
But don’t call it an SUV. No, siree! Call it an SIV. We can already hear people asking over and over, “An SIV? What is that?” We’ll see if “Smart Intuitive Vehicle” sticks or is just a quick attempt at marketing that fades away. Is this yet another moniker we’ll have to add to the ever-growing list of ways we can call a car, well, a car?
There is no denying Byton packs a serious financial punch and former automotive professionals who shouldn’t be written off as naive nobodies. However, we can’t help but wonder how the message here differs from past startups? It does have the finances of a country hungry to make its mark on the international automotive scene, but so did Faraday Future and others.
It also has some manufacturing might and brings experienced EV professionals with an already established international foothold. But, again, so did Faraday Future. What will Byton do differently/better?
We’ll have to wait for CES 2018, where Byton will unveil its electric SIV. It should go on sale in 2019 followed by a sedan in 2021 and an MPV in 2022. As to the price, Byton hopes to make it affordable at $40,000–45,0000, which, considering other options, would be quite compelling. We look forward to how Byton will surprise us and especially look forward to that SIV test drive as soon as possible. 😉