Published on November 15th, 2019 | by Nicolas Zart0
Byton’s Nanjing Manufacturing Bet Is On Quality, Control, Long-Term Execution
November 15th, 2019 by Nicolas Zart
Byton doesn’t do anything halfway. That much is obvious by now. The company never shied away from gigantic work and its gargantuan Nanjing production facility is a testament to its ambition. I met Mark Duchesne, who is the Vice President of Manufacturing Operations at Byton, at the Frankfurt Auto Show earlier this year. What he had to tell me was impressive.
Building Customized Manufacturing Plant For Total Control — The Right Manufacturing For Complete Quality Control
Duchesne told me about how his previous experience with Toyota and Tesla helped the task he faced 3 years ago. Taking on a project that size from minus ground zero – as Duchesne likes to say – to where it is now was no small feat. He told me Byton did the right thing compared to how others approached manufacturing plants in the past. In the end, Byton will make its vehicle more affordable from good planning to execution, including contract negotiations, Duchesne notes.
I asked Duchesne if contracting manufacturers isn’t easier and cheaper. His answer was, yes, but there is much less quality control and more chance to lose the long-term goal. Byton made it clear it wanted to have complete control over the high level of quality it was aiming for. It could have chosen a prime location in the heart of Beijing or Shanghai but instead found Nanjing had more potential to build a full manufacturing plant from the ground up. This involved remediation, a ground leveling of up to 1.4 meters, which you can multiply by 800,000 square meters (861,112.83 sq-ft). The plant will have a capacity of 300,000 units annually. Although, for the first year, Byton expects between 100,000 and 150,000 units. This will grow until capacity is reached in another year or so. Overall, it is 8.6 million square feet.
It seems that Byton has truly laid the foundation for a financially sustainable future. The local Nanjing government worked closely with the startup. If it wasn’t the fastest way to do it, it was probably the best approach to controlling quality and costs. He says it was a way for Byton to get the maximum ROI for its investors — more so than if it had outsourced its production needs.
Duchesne made sure he had the right team that understands what to do, and that buys into the mission. This is something he learned at Tesla, that taking care of your employees, respecting and challenging them, is the most important part of the recipe.
Byton On Working With Chinese Workforce
Working in China has its advantages and challenges. Overall, Duchesne said it is different working with a Chinese workforce and that they rise to meet challenges in an impressive way. The Chinese workforce is very motivated to retire the negative “Chinese quality” stigma. He feels that having the best people from other industries and appointing them intelligently in the right places is what makes a successful recipe for a startup. He told me he has the most dedicated team he’s ever worked with. Byton is targeting European quality with an Asian workforce, and Duchesne feels confident his team will deliver that. And remember, your smartphone was built in China at a high quality!
Asked about the production delay of the M-Byte, Duchesne said it is millions of data points that need to come together coherently. Byton had nothing a few years ago and designed a car, with another concept on the way, the factory, hired a workforce it trained, build the factory, and is now putting everything together. The Nanjing manufacturing plant was designed with the final product in mind, something that doesn’t happen often lately. The manufacturing plant is highly flexible and, compared to other startups, Byton has 100% control over the product and the quality.
The company didn’t feel comfortable rushing the M-Byte. That is not the Byton culture, according to Duchesne, who says: “Spending extra time making engineering, software, and assembly to meet the global quality without making rushing mistakes is the name of the game. Too many startups made that mistake of rushing to the market and are no longer around.”
I asked Duchesne how he handles the back and forth between design and manufacturing and how he manages expectations with the reality of production. He said that Benoit Jacob, who is the Vice President of Design, is one of the rare professionals who designs a car that is both stunning and manufacturable. That is one less step manufacturing needs to worry. David Twohig, Chief Technical Officer, whom we will interview next, knows how to balance it all and keep the company steady. What Duchesne brings from Toyota is the planning know-how. From Tesla, he learned that you need to do whatever it takes to make a startup survive. That means finding a way to build the car no matter what.
Byton Builds Its Ideal Manufacturing Plant & Team
Byton culture has been established. Duchesne says he’s witnessed it from the beginning but wasn’t sure at first if it was real. I feel the same. I approached Byton cautiously at first. But its culture is very palpable. There is an indescribable enthusiasm that is tangible from design to manufacturing to the executive level. Waves might come and go, but the people make the culture, and that never changes. Culture comes from passion, and it seems that Byton has it in all the right places.