Electric-car startup Byton understands that the road to success is littered with plenty of broken-down dreams.
The new EV company’s executives, though, figure things are different now, to the point that arriving a bit late to the party is actually a good thing.
Whether you’re looking at Faraday Future or Lucid or Nio or Tesla, the co-founders of Byton—former head of the BMW i8 program Carsten Breitfeld and former managing director of Infiniti China Daniel Kirchert—don’t want you to think of Byton simply as another electric-vehicle startup.
At a media introduction day held Friday at Byton’s new North American headquarters in Santa Clara, California, most of the discussion centered on the connectivity and consumer-friendly tech features of the company’s upcoming SUV.
Not on its plug-in electric powertrain.
“We are definitely more inspired by Apple than by Tesla,” said co-founder and president Kirchert.
“We will focus more on the smart car part than the EV part,” he explained. “Making a good electric car is important, but we don’t think in the future that will be a big differentiator.”
“The biggest mistake you can make as a new car company—and this is, in my opinion, maybe why Faraday failed—is if you want to do too many things,” Breitfeld said.
“If you have a big dream and do everything at the same time, you will not be successful. Focus on the product and get the product out. This is the first step you have to achieve.”
That’s just what Byton is trying to do.
It was started two years ago after an energizing discussion between Breitfeld and Kirchert (they knew each other because Kirchert had also worked at BMW).
The company was originally called Future Mobility Company, letting it keep a low profile and get things done before alerting the media and the public to its plans.
The name Byton, a play on “bytes on wheels,” was announced during an event in Shanghai this fall.
The company’s first vehicle, an SUV, will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes. The company already has around 500 employees spread across three continents.
Alongside the R&D center in California, Byton’s global headquarters are in China and it has a design center in Munich, Germany.
The company has revealed only a few specs for its electric SUV at this point. Both front- and all-wheel drive will be available, with a 150-kilowatt motor up front and a 200-kw motor in the rear.
The Byton SUV will have two battery options, a 71-kilowatt-hour “entry pack” that will offer around 200 miles or range, and a 95-kwh “extended pack” good for around 310 miles.
The base model with FWD and the entry battery pack is projected to start at $40,000 to $45,000.
We don’t know exactly what it will look like, because the company didn’t show any completed vehicles during the press visit. We do know the all-electric SUV will have an interior unlike any other vehicle on the road.
The cabin is dominated by a curved 49-inch touch screen (about 8 inches tall) that stretches from door to door, with different sections available for different uses, depending on whether the car is parked or, in the future, in autonomous-drive mode.
The driver and passengers can interact with the screen using touch, voice, or gesture controls.
“We completely shifted the focus and reinterpreted the DNA of the vehicle,” said Byton’s vice president of marketing, Henrik Wenders. (He, too, spent time at BMW, 14 years in his case.)
At that company, he said, the focus is on sheer driving pleasure and the driver’s seat is the most important one in the vehicle. “I think this holds true for the last 100 years,” he said, “but for the next 100 years, it’s going to be different.”
“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.”
That said, one of Byton’s defining features will be a steering-wheel mounted 8-inch touch screen to provide the driver with another place to get information.
The company’s cars will be connected to something called Byton Life, which keeps your personal in-vehicle preferences—seating position, music, contacts, calendar, etc.—in the cloud.
Whether you only share your vehicle with a partner or spouse, or with hundreds of people through a car-sharing service, face-recognition cameras will know who you are and make sure the car is set up just the way you want it.
Touches like this are part of what Byton representatives meant when they said, many times during the day, that the car actually represents a “next-generation smart device” instead of just a new car.
But a car is involved, of course. Three, actually, all built on the same Byton platform.
The premium mid-size SUV that the company will unveil in January at CES 2018 will go on sale the following year, starting in China, Byton says.
A sedan will follow in 2021, and then a European-style Multi-Purpose Vehicle (small minivan) is to arrive in 2022.
All three vehicles will be built at the company’s production facility in Nanjing, China, which will have an annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles when finished.
Construction began in September 2017, and the total investment in the plant is said to be $1.1 billion.
If Byton’s timetable sounds a bit … short … to you, Breitfeld’s response is to point to the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sport coupe.
That vehicle went from idea to reality within the giant corporate structure at BMW in about 38 months, he said.
Through it, he first saw what is possible in the new electric-vehicle age.
That makes him more than comfortable rolling in fashionably late to the global EV party.