- The electric-vehicle startup Byton wants to set itself apart from other car brands by focusing on technology.
- The company’s M-Byte electric SUV will have a 48-inch dashboard screen, a touchpad on its steering wheel, voice and gesture-control features, and the ability to receive over-the-air software updates.
- While Tesla has been a leader in automotive technology, Byton CEO Daniel Kirchert believes the company’s vehicles will take Tesla’s innovations to the next level.
- Byton also hopes to avoid Tesla’s financial and manufacturing issues.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Of the first generation of electric-vehicle startups, all but Tesla have faltered in some way or another – and some of them shut down entirely. Now, new challengers are hoping they can replicate Tesla’s success.
Tesla has been the electric-vehicle sales leader in the US by a wide margin in recent years, and is expanding globally with its newly opened factory in China and another one planned for Germany. Startups will have to persuade shoppers to choose them over a more proven electric-vehicle brand that has earned rave reviews from customers.
Byton, which is headquartered in China but has offices in California and Germany, hopes to build on Tesla’s formula, by focusing on technology. Tesla introduced over-the-air software updates to the auto industry, as well as large, touchpad-style infotainment screens to control most vehicle settings. Byton believes it is poised to surge ahead.
“We tried to jump at least one or two steps further,” Byton CEO Daniel Kirchert said in an interview with Business Insider.
Byton’s central idea is to create a “smart device on wheels.” The startup’s first vehicle, the M-Byte electric SUV, will have a 48-inch dashboard screen that stretches across the full width of the windshield, and has a touchpad on its steering wheel, both of which Kirchert said are auto-industry firsts. The M-Byte will also have voice and gesture-control features, as well as the ability to receive over-the-air updates.
“I think it’s a fundamental game changer,” Kirchert said of the M-Byte’s user interface.
Byton will release the M-Byte in China this year, with North America and Europe to follow in 2021.
The company is aware of concerns that the vehicle’s screen could distract drivers, but it believes it will have the opposite effect. Positioned far from the driver’s seat, Kirchert said the 48-inch screen will not obstruct the driver’s view, while also allowing the driver to quickly move their eyes from the road to the screen and back.
Since the screen is so large, content, like navigation maps, will be bigger than on the average car’s infotainment display, making it easier to comprehend.
Byton hopes to avoid Tesla’s production and profitability issues
Byton is not just focused on technology. Kirchert said the M-Byte’s production quality and craftsmanship will be on par with the major German luxury brands: Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. That’s a bold claim for a startup to make, given that Tesla has struggled for years with reports of quality and reliability issues.
But Kirchert distinguished Byton’s approach to manufacturing from the one Tesla used when it launched its Model 3 sedan in 2017. At the time, the company attempted to automate much of the assembly process, an idea that had been unsuccessful when General Motors tried it in the 1980s. It backfired again, and brought Tesla to the brink of bankruptcy.
Kirchert said Byton will not over-automate its production process, instead following the auto industry’s best practices for manufacturing. But building cars is fundamentally difficult and expensive. Getting it right is a high-stakes undertaking; a miscalculation can drive a fledgling startup into a ditch. Byton pushed back the M-Byte’s original 2019 release date to focus on production quality.
“We don’t want to take any risk that we don’t get the cars right right from the beginning,” Kirchert said.
Byton also hopes to avoid Tesla’s persistent financial losses. While it has earned a profit in a handful of quarters, Tesla has not yet done so over the course of a full 12 months in its 17-year history. Kirchert doesn’t believe Byton will be given that kind of slack.
“We were convinced right from the beginning that we won’t have 10 or 15 years to reach break-even,” he said.
A Byton representative said the company is aiming to hit the break-even point two to three years after it begins selling the M-Byte.
The only way to make money as a car company, Kirchert said, is to sell a large number of cars. For that reason, Byton priced the M-Byte (which starts at around $50,000) closer to Tesla’s Model 3 ($39,990) than its higher-end vehicles, the Model S sedan ($79,990) and Model X SUV ($84,990). Tesla has proved with the Model 3 that you can sell a significant amount of electric vehicles at the right price point, Kirchert said, though an attractive price won’t drive sales by itself. Electric-car makers need to develop vehicles that are more compelling than their gas-powered counterparts.
“You have to have a better car,” Kirchert said. “It’s not just the ideological decision of buying an EV. It’s about buying a better car.”
Kirchert thinks the M-Byte’s distinctive tech features will be particularly attractive to younger consumers who have grown up with smartphones and will expect their cars to have similar capabilities.
“It’s really designed for the next generation of users,” he said of the M-Byte, referring to customers born in the 1990s.
“It’s a future-proof design.”
Are you a current or former Byton employee? Do you have an opinion about what it’s like to work there? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach out on Signal at 646-768-4712 or email this reporter’s encrypted address at email@example.com.
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