Self-driving cars are coming. What seemed like a sci-fi fantasy a decade ago will be reality within a few years. The question on the lips of everyone in the car business is, “What will people do with their free time while they get ferried about by autonomous cars?” Heaven forbid that people not be entertained every second of every day. Byton is the latest electric car startup, and it thinks it has the answer — connectivity, lots and lots of it. The name of the company is a not so subtle play on the word “byte,” the basic tidbit of binary code that forms the basis for all electronic communication.
Based in China, Byton was created by a group of people who share a common background — working for traditional automakers like BMW and Nissan. On its website, it boasts, “We are convinced that future mobility is not about improving driving performance. We will replace cylinders and horsepower by connectivity and technology you care about. In doing so, we are creating the next-generation smart device: the car. BYTON lets you do what you want to do. Enjoy entertainment and boost your productivity. Make plans for work and your spare time. Or simply cherish each and every moment in your private place of retreat.”
The company’s first offering will be precisely what the world wants most — an electric SUV. It is called simply the Byton Concept and it debuted at the 2018 CES show in Las Vegas this week. The car shown is said to be 85% production ready. China should see the first cars in 2019, with Europe and the US following in 2020.
The Byton electric SUV will come in two flavors, both with Level 3 autonomy. Level 4 autonomy is expected to be available in 2021. The rear-wheel-drive (RWD) version will have a 71 kWh battery, 272 horsepower, and a range of 250 miles. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) version will come with a 95 kWh battery, 476 horsepower, and a range of 325 miles. Both will be supported by fast charging to replenish 80% of the battery in 35 minutes or less. The electric powertrain allows the wheels to be pushed further toward the corners of the car, leaving more interior room, especially in the rear, the company says.
No matter how awesome a car’s digital capabilities may be, styling is still critical to success. The Byton Concept is appealing if a trifle generic. From the side, the kick-up over the rear wheels is copied directly from the current Nissan Murano, while the steeply sloping roof is a knockoff of the Land Rover Evoque. Why manufacturers feel the need to create cars with built-in rear-quarter blind spots or utility vehicles with rear openings too low to allow easy access to the cargo area is a great mystery.
But it’s what’s inside that counts. True to its mission of keeping drivers and passengers entertained every second of every journey, the car features an enormous 4o” wide screen it calls a Shared Experience Display. The front seats rotate inward 12° so that those in the rear seat can get a better view. Gesture controls and voice commands operate all the controls and entertainment options. There is yet another tablet-sized touchscreen mounted on the steering wheel hub for the driver to fiddle with, and more touchscreens for rear-seat passengers will be optional.
More technical gee-wizardry includes replacing side-view mirrors with cameras, LED lights front and rear that communicate with pedestrians, and facial recognition cameras inside and out. With an eye toward a future of shared mobility, your face will access all your personal data and preferences. No matter which Byton vehicle you happen to be riding in worldwide, it will recognize you and adapt to your every need and wish.
How much will all this cost? According to Engadget, the price of admission for a base model will be around $45,000. You can wander around the company website for a variety of interesting videos about the car and more information regarding its digital prowess.
The real question is, will any cars actually get built? Last year at this time, Faraday Future was wowing the automotive world with its FF91 concept. Today, that company may or may not still be in business, but it doesn’t seem like the FF91 will be coming to market. Tesla’s experience with the Model 3 makes it clearer than ever that actually building cars is far more difficult than many people ever imagined.
Batteries and electric motors make it easier than ever for a new car company to get started, but how many will still be in business a year from now, or 5 years from now? And how many customers will be willing to part with their hard earned cash to buy a car from a new company that has just arrived on the scene, has no dealer network, no service facilities, and no dedicated charging network? In the end, the answers to those questions may be more important than how many touchscreens a car offers.