Byton: scrap what you understood the word 'car' to mean until now
The new firm is developing an electric SUV that could revolutionise the automotive industry. It will be so smart that it will know your preferences before you even get behind the wheel… If it has one!
Las Vegas is a paradise for big bets, which is why it comes as no surprise that Byton CEO, Carsten Breitfeld, went there to unveil his revolutionary concept: an electric SUV that could turn the automotive industry upside down. It’s such a huge paradigm shift that if his project is successful, we will completely forget our current idea of what a car is.
For starters, said Breitfeld during the presentation, the new Byton will be developed with “data power”, not horsepower, in mind. He added that: “We’re more interested in the speed of data than in kilometres per hour”.
This entrepreneur knows a lot about electric cars. Before starting out on this ambitious project, he was a director at BMW and led development of the i8: the Bavarian carmaker’s spectacular zero-emission electric sports car. He’s now the head of Byton: a new breed of automotive company owned by a Chinese multinational, the name of which is a clear declaration of intent: Future Mobility Corporation (FMC).
The name “Byton” also has a hidden meaning: bytes on wheels, and already employs 300 staff and has offices in Munich and Silicon Valley. So what will the car destined to reinvent mobility be like? It is a decent-sized SUV (4.85 metres) designed by Benoit Jacob, who was also responsible for the designs of BMW’s electric models.
It will come with two battery sizes: one with a range of 400 kilometres and the other, 500 kilometres. The charging time, says the company, will be under 12 minutes. To put this into context, less time than it takes you to have a coffee when you stop for fuel.
The first car will roll off the company’s production line in China within two years. So what’s truly revolutionary about it? Its autonomy, which will be total, and will guarantee not only zero emissions but also zero accidents. This is a subject the company is taking very seriously, in this Asian country where around 100,000 drivers die each year.
It also changes the paradigm because it does away with the concept of ownership. The Byton will be aimed at car-share companies. You’ll request your Byton, be given a location and head to where it is parked. It will detect your presence and open the doors and because your preferences are stored in the Cloud, it will automatically set the aircon at the temperature you prefer, move your seat to the right position, and will even tune into your favourite radio station. All you’ll need to do is say “to the office” and the Byton will safely take you there.
The company refers to its car as a “Smart Device Platform”. The interior will be a radical departure from what we are used to. There’ll be no buttons, which will be replaced by a huge panoramic screen. You won’t even need to touch it, as everything will be gesture and voice controlled. Because the car will drive itself, the front seats will swivel round if the four occupants want to have a chat or hold a meeting while the Byton takes them to their destination.
During the unveiling, Breifeld was clear: “We’re not aiming to compete with Tesla on autonomy or power; we are investing in cutting-edge data and internet technology”. The company will offer an experience that begins the moment you walk into the car showrooms, which have been designed as boutiques and will be located in all the largest cities around the world. Rather than viewing your car in situ, the sales rep will give you a pair of virtual reality goggles. Why? Because Byton also wants to radically change our idea of a showroom.