The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) doesn’t open in Las Vegas for another couple of days, but already, even as attendees are just beginning to pour into the city, events and launches are happening.
In the automotive sector, a slew of high-tech introductions is planned over the next four days. To maximize attention to their new electric car, Chinese start-up Byton scheduled a press conference for Sunday 7th January, a move that definitely got them to the front of queue.
Byton is the brand name of Future Mobility Corporation of Nanjing, China. David Kirchert, President of Byton, explained the name: “The name ‘Byton’ comes from 'bytes on wheels' so it somehow reflects our idea to make a computer on four wheels. The focus of the brand will be much more on the experience of the passenger on the inside.”
Accordingly, the overall package of the first Byton is an SUV, a format that, although placed in a crowded market, is nonetheless familiar to the Chinese, and ultimately American and European consumer.
Explained CEO Carsten Breitfeld to Automotive News, “We don't do fancy things, but the first product we bring to the market will hit the sweet spot in the market that you really can have volume and make money.”
Byton calls their first car an “SIV” – a Smart Intuitive Vehicle, with the emphasis on connecting with and integrating all manner of personal smart devices (phones, watches, and tablets, among others).
Accordingly, the emphasis is on the interior and personal technologies, not the exterior or performance dynamics.
Exterior cameras, combined with A.I. technologies, facial recognition systems and Amazon’s Alexa, assure that the car recognizes you at your approach and adjusts the interior to your personal preferences, no matter which of the four seats you occupy.
These preferences will be stored in Byton’s secure cloud, and accessed through the vehicle’s advanced antenna system, which replaces the familiar ‘shark fin’ found on many cars.
Once in the car, one can interact with the various systems and screens via voice, touch, or gesture commands, as well as the aforementioned facial recognition systems which will bring forward all your entertainment, seat position and climate control preferences.
Byton is working with various smart device makers to assure that they communicate seamlessly with the car.
Screens figure prominently in the interior of the Byton. The most prominent is the enormous 49-inch by 10-inch (1245 mm x 254mm) screen that spans across the entire front of the cabin, essentially replacing the IP.
Additionally, there is an eight-inch screen at the hub of the steering wheel (no word about the airbag), and two screens facing the rear passengers.
It’s quite the ensemble and will provoke some to ask, have we reached ‘Peak Screen’? Or is this in fact the future?
The rest of the interior is a handsome composition of leather seats and trim, which has an aesthetic that recalls the BMW i interiors – appropriate as Breitfeld and others at Byton were a vital part of BMW’s i program (particularly the i8).
At the exterior, the SUV package is relatively conservative, although well-proportioned.
The massing, glasshouse, and character lines tick all the right boxes, but would not stand out in a car park. At the front and rear fasciae there is an interesting criss-cross pattern of lighting that supplements the LED main lights, making for an interesting DRG.
But Byton is about a digital lifestyle, not a conventional car-centric lifestyle product.
At the introduction, the car was described as “a next generation smart device” as they made the point that “smart mobility is replacing driver-centred mobility.”
For automotive purists, these words are blasphemous, but for the tech-utopians of Silicon Valley and advocates of autonomy and electric mobility, it is voice of the future.
Mechanically, Byton claims an estimated range of 250 miles in the basic model and 325 in the premium edition. The basic model will be rear-wheel-drive with a 71kWh battery pack. The premium edition will be four-wheel drive with a 95kWh battery pack.
In a fast-charge mode the battery packs will be able to recharge to 80% capacity in 30 minutes. There will be a standard 200kW (268 horsepower) motor, with a 350 kW (469 horsepower) dual-motor set-up on the premium edition.
The Byton will come standard with Level-3 autonomous capabilities, with Level-4 anticipated as an upgrade in 2020, inching the car forward toward a completely autonomous mobility device.
Overall dimensions are 4850mm in length, 1960mm in width, and 1650mm high.
The price is stated to be an “affordable” $45,000 (£33,200 or €37,500).
The Byton production car is scheduled to arrive in late 2019 in China, followed by the United States – an estimated 30 percent of its market – and Europe, which will also account for 30 percent. Car sharing services and fleets sales are part of the planned market strategy.
But the uphill climb to production is steep, as while the company has raised an initial $240million, will need many more to produce vehicles in the volume necessary to become a sustainable venture. It has not yet obtained a permit from the Chinese government to produce vehicles- it first needs to prove it has the manufacturing capacity.
We will be visiting the Byton stand and get a closer look, and hopefully get a test drive this week as well.