China’s rapidly growing electric car industry has yet to make an impression on the American consumer—none of the cars are marketed in the U.S., and many proposed deployment dates have come and gone.
The latest such date is 202—that’s when the splashy startup Byton says it will introduce its tech-heavy, premium M-Byte electric car to American buyers. The M-Byte will go on sale in China later this year, and Europe around the same time as North America.
Byton’s CEO and co-founder, the M-Byte will start at an affordable US$45,000 and then, with options including a larger battery pack, climb to approximately US$70,000.
Byton’s presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week emphasized the car as a mobile entertainment center. The car, says Qingfen Ding, Byton’s chief of staff, is “the world’s first smart device on wheels.”
The centerpiece of this “platform for life” is a curved 48-inch screen that stretches across the entire dashboard, and uses facial recognition to recognize the driver. It offers many programmable functions, including the driver’s schedule, statistics from a fitness tracker (via a partnership with
), favorite music or TV programs, and even a photo scrapbook. The presentation showed Byton owners using the screen for a remote video conference. There’s also a seven-inch touchscreen in the steering wheel. (Yes, in the steering wheel.)
The technology is, in a word, cool, but probably of limited use to people who are actually driving the car. Right now, owners will have to use a lot of the features when they’re stopped. But do people really want to conference or watch video programming (via collaborations with ViacomCBS and Access) in their motionless cars? I saw front-seat entertainment screens presented by Delphi engineers as far back as 2000, and they couldn’t make the idea work for drivers without being massively distracting.
Byton is thinking ahead here to an autonomous environment, as Kirchert confirmed after the press event. Without a driver attentive to the road, the whole in-car environment changes. The 48-inch screen could be a gateway to the entire windshield becoming an even bigger one. Byton is working on its own self-driving technology, but no timetable was provided.
Byton wants the public to associate the brand with the future. Maybe it’s working—there are 60,000 reservations for the M-Byte globally, 21,000 of them in Europe, the company says. There’s no question people are making buying decisions because of the technology at their fingertips, not the horsepower under the hood. Chief Customer Officer
quoted a survey saying that 40% of those questioned would switch car brands for better connectivity.
Kirchert says the company’s factory in Nanjing, China, is capable of producing up to 300,000 cars per year. He says that the Tesla Model 3 was in the company’s sights, as well as such non-electric cars as the BMW X3. The M-Byte is a premium crossover, a segment Kirchert sees as particularly popular with buyers.
The car will be offered with two battery packs, of 72 and 95 kilowatt-hours, and the latter might deliver 250 to 325 miles of range in EPA’s testing (which is not as forgiving as the European equivalent).
Will the car be fast? Probably. They weren’t talking about that in Las Vegas, but published figures suggest a top speed of 118 miles per hour, and zero to 62 miles per hour times of 5.5 seconds (all-wheel drive) and 7.5 seconds (rear-wheel drive). A range of 268 horsepower to 402 horsepower (the latter with two motors) is expected. A second model on the same
platform, the luxurious K-Byte sedan, will also be forthcoming, and should have similar performance figures.
American buyers will benefit from a deal with Electrify America that will grant them, for the first two years, free 30-minute fast-charging sessions (enough to add 150 miles of range). Lower-voltage public charging from the company will be more freely available.
Details on how the car will be sold stateside are in short supply, but it will be a “hybrid retail model,” with both Byton-branded stores and partnerships with existing sales and service groups. Kirchert says an announcement about a major U.S. partner is coming soon. The company has a distributor’s license to sell in California, which is very likely to be its biggest U.S. market.
Chinese automakers have long wanted to make landfall in North America. Nothing significant has happened to date, but perhaps Byton is the automaker to finally hit the beach.