CES 2019 has not officially opened yet, but a few companies are getting the jump on the competition and holding press conferences on Sunday. One of these is Byton, the Chinese start-up that introduced two concepts in 2018, the crossover – the M-Byte, and its sibling, the K-Byte sedan – each purely electric-powered and each full of electronics in keeping with Byton’s philosophy of the car as a mobile smart device.
Both concepts were present on Sunday as the M-Byte was introduced in its production form. Or rather, it was introduced virtually, via videos, in production form. No actual production-spec car was present and there does not seem to be plans for it to be at the show.
The exterior of the M-Byte seems to be unchanged, with the exception of some minor details. The interior, which was what everyone has been interested in all along, was shown in several videos – and, to answer the question of the hour, yes, that 48-inch screen (as large as seven tablets or 24 smart phones, claims Byton) is indeed planned for production. It’s augmented by a seven-inch touch screen at the steering wheel hub, another at the centre console, and two more available to rear seat passengers.
That’s a lot of interior real estate dedicated to screens. Additionally, voice and gesture commands are recognised, so in theory the driver is not searching across screens for, say, volume controls or the temperature dial. Passengers can interact with the main screen through their own individual screens.
The shape and configuration of the IP was changed somewhat from the concept design, but not radically so. The IP area is a bit more sculptural with high and low placements of vents, a centre mounted array of buttons for transmission selection, and a new centre console with, yes, an additional screen.
Other details of the Byton car were not revealed, but a look at its concept’s interior fit and finish reveals the designers’ BMW origins, with excellent detailing and well-crafted interior components that should guarantee a comfortable ride.
Similarly, range and charging were not discussed either, although the concept claimed a 323-mile (520 km) range, but Byton claims that its fundamental platform is based on a two-fold philosophy; advanced electric power and the bespoke Byton Life Digital Platform.
It’s clear that Byton has something else in mind for its products and it has not been shy about claiming its cars “bring the smartphone moment to the automobile.” Byton is about bridging the gap between consumer electronics and traditional cars.
Byton is also about “giving time back to you,” according Henrik Wenders, Byton’s Vice President of Marketing. This means a quality infotainment and work environment when on the go and when stuck in traffic. It represents perhaps the ultimate expression of the “smartphone on wheels” philosophy of car design that has been discussed for the five years or so.
The Byton includes a full integration of Amazon Alexa, meaning you are part of the vast Amazon ecosystem, with all its features. Voice commands are easy as with any Alexa appliance. Streaming a movie from Amazon prime to that 48-inch screen gives a new definition to ‘drive-in movie’. Everyone riding in a Byton can have their own Byton/Alexa accounts so everyone can dial in their favourites.
Also implicit in Byton’s design is an admission that the car, smart or not, is destined to be bogged down in traffic for the foreseeable future, so infotainment and connectivity are seen as essentials for the brutal commutes of today and tomorrow.
There are as many questions as answers remaining from today’s press conference and so we look forward to sitting in an actual production vehicle later in the year.
Maybe we can use Amazon Alexa to order one for a test drive. Yep, there’s an app for that…