CES is ramping up in Las Vegas this weekend, with today marking the global launch of a new Chinese electric vehicle brand.
The executive team behind Byton unveiled a nearly production-ready version of what they refer to as their “smart intuitive vehicle,” an all-electric SUV with a futuristic-looking dashboard.
“The target of Byton is to be the first player in the market that can provide products for smart mobility as part of a smart living scenario in the future,” Byton CEO Carsten Breitfeld told Entrepreneur.
By labeling the vehicle “smart intuitive,” the brand aims to signify it’s focused less on driving and more on the user experience the car’s passengers have.
Its defining feature is its massive 49- by 10-inch display across its dashboard, allowing everyone in the vehicle to see the content on the screen. Even the steering wheel, the part of the vehicle that most closely resembles a traditional car, has an eight-inch touchscreen on it. (The name Byton comes from the phrase “bytes on wheels.”)
The interior tech has voice and gesture control integrated into its design, as well as the capability to identify various drivers and their seat and temperature preferences, even between vehicles. It will incorporate 5G connectivity and drive 400 miles on a single charge -- and reach an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes.
Machine learning will allow the interface to make personalized suggestions for users, and facial and emotional recognition will also allow the vehicle to adapt to its user (e.g. unlocking doors). It will also have the ability to sense its surroundings and communicate data to other Byton vehicles on the road.
The brand, which plans to begin selling its crossover vehicles in China in late 2019, nests under Future Mobility Corp, a company co-founded in 2016 by Breitfeld and fellow industry veteran Daniel Kirchert. The vehicles will sell for the equivalent of roughly $45,000, and the company estimates they will be available in the U.S. by mid-2020.
So far, the company has raised nearly $300 million across seed and series A rounds and plans to close its series B this quarter. Last month, it opened a North American headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., to house up to 300 employees. U.S. recruits have joined from Apple, Audi, BMW, Delphi, Ford, Google, Mercedes, Tesla, Toyota and more.
The company also has offices in Munich, Germany, as well as Nanjing, China, where it is based. To get an initial 100,000 SUVs on the market by next year, the company is constructing a plant in Nanjing. So far, it’s secured high-profile suppliers Bosch and Faurecia to make its high-tech interior a reality.Related: Humans Can Fly in This Drone-Like Electric Hybrid 'Octocopter'
At CES this year, Byton’s debut harkens memories of another electric vehicle startup, Faraday Future, and the surrounding hype at the 2017 show. The latter company experienced a technical difficulty when a demonstration of the FF 91’s self-parking feature failed. Faraday Future has also had its share of financial setbacks and leadership struggles. A Nevada state regulator likened the company to a Ponzi scheme, and by the end of 2017, the company’s VP of design, CFO and CTO had all resigned.
Breitfeld would not comment about Faraday Future specifically, but he noted that Byton’s “approach is first of all, to create an affordable vehicle. He adds: “Most importantly, we created this company in a way that our investors are putting the money in, but we as a management team, we run the company. There’s not single investor who has the control or can override decisions. We as a management team, have the vision, know-how and business plan.”
The biggest obstacle to overcome before rolling out electric, self-driving vehicles in the U.S. is the speed with which the government and society are getting on board. That’s one reason the brand is rolling out in China first, Breitfeld explains. The government is prioritizing the infrastructure for autonomous and electric vehicles.
Byton plans to sell direct to consumer and through showrooms operated by third-party sales agents. By 2022, the brand intends to launch two other vehicles: a sedan and a seven-seater multi-purpose vehicle. But the company is looking far beyond cars.
“When we created the company, we named it Future Mobility Corporation, not ‘Future Car Corporation,’” Breitfeld says. “Ten years from now, besides selling our product, we probably will offer mobility services based on our product. We want to be a leading company in creating products and offering services for smart living environments in general.”
Entrepreneur will be on the ground at CES beginning Jan. 8. Check our Instagram story (@entrepreneur) between Jan. 9 and 10 to see Associate Editor Lydia Belanger’s test ride in a Byton vehicle.