Byton M-Byte SUV gearing up for production
Company co-founder departs fledgling EV brand ahead of £35,000 debut model
Chinese electric start-up Byton will begin initial production of its M-Byte SUV this summer, ahead of volume manufacturing by the end of 2019 – but will do without company co-founder Carsten Breitfeld.
The former BMW i-division boss is set to step down as Byton CEO for a new, undisclosed role within the start-up industry.
“Carsten helped build a strong Byton brand and bring in the right people to take our start-up to the next level,” Byton co-founder and CEO Dr. Daniel Kirchert. “Now we are focusing on our main goal to achieve the on-time-start-of-production of the first Byton series production model in 2019 with our strong team and partners.
“Thanks to our founding team and all employees we’re well on track and looking forward to delivering the M-Byte this year to customers in China, followed by the US and Europe in 2020.”
The production version of the M-Byte will be built at the company’s Nanjing facility, which is on schedule to open within the next three months. The car will then debut in the Chinese market towards the end of the year, ahead of the introduction of the K-Byte saloon in 2022.
Byton will appoint a new CTO shortly, as it prepares to close its final round of investment funding. It recently secured £385 million to help it take on established players such as Tesla.
Byton’s chief vehicle engineer is Irishman David Twohig, who formerly worked for the Renault-Nissan Alliance and won the Mundy Award for Engineering at the 2018 Autocar Awards for his work on the Alpine A110. We caught up with Twohig at the Pebble Beach Concours event to find out more about Byton’s ambitious plans.
Where is Byton in terms of products?
“Getting close. Launch is committed for China in 2019, we’ll do North America a few months later and we’ll be in Europe at the back end of 2020. The plant at Nanjing is going ahead at a speed I’ve never seen in 26 years in the car industry. We’ll be building the first off-tool prototypes early next year.”
Will all Byton vehicles sit on the same platform?
“Yes. It’s not a sandwich construction like the Chevrolet Bolt, for example. We are very much leaning on established technologies — that’s why they hired guys like me, an old soldier from existing OEMs. We’re relying on technology you can scale with minimum investment, and the plant in Nanjing is set up to do that, to do different wheelbases with all vehicles built on a single line.”
Why stick with ‘three-box’ design when you don’t have engines up front?
“I’d say we’ve made a bit of a rupture with the K-Byte. It looks like a three-box but it’s really not, we’ve got a completely open space in front of the driver and passenger, which is why we’ve been able to create the idea of seats that swivel 12 degrees when the car is running autonomously. It’s clever packaging.”
You are committed to having partial autonomy from launch, but how quickly will you be able to deliver true ‘eyes off’ autonomy?
“We are autonomous driving optimists or I wouldn’t be standing in front of this vehicle. Yes, there have been some over-optimistic claims, but we do believe it’s going to happen very quickly. The key with Level 4 is whether we are talking all the time and everywhere, in which case it is still a very big ask. But if we’re talking about Level 4 most of the time and most of the world, certainly where you don’t have extreme weather conditions. We think it will be very soon, within the life of this vehicle.”
The big question: how will Byton succeed and actually make money where other EV makers have failed?
“First, we have economy of scale. This is a low-margin industry so you need the volume. The Nanjing plant isn’t a little shop, it’s 300,000 vehicles [per year], hence the platform strategy and cost engineering so we can offer them at £35,000. Second is the fact the cars are built in China, which really keeps your cost base down. Thirdly, the kind of technology we have plus the connectivity of the car is going to generate revenue streams that we don’t even know about today. Up until 2006 we thought that telephones were for making calls; now they generate a bunch of revenue we didn’t even think of back then.”
Source: Autocar Online