Byton Pushes M-Byte EV as First Smart Device on Wheels


LAS VEGAS – Byton kicked off the automotive part of CES 2020 with a reintroduction of its M-Byte electric SUV, providing details on production and sales plans, news of a developer program (you know, like it’s a $50,000 phone), and the names of partners who will provide streaming video and minute-by-minute weather updates.

CEO Daniel Kirchert said Byton has already produced several dozen M-Byte pre-production models at its Nanjing, China, factory. The company is on track to go into mass production by the middle of this year, Kirchert said, with deliveries to China this year, the US in 2021, and then Europe. Previously, Byton had forecast mass production by late 2019. That’s a slippage of two, maybe three quarters, but barely a hiccup compared with the legendary delays in Tesla-land.

Byton used CES 2018 to first introduce the M-Byte. This is the vehicle known for its 48-inch LCD strip across the width of the dashboard – yes, it’s going to be on the production vehicles, not just the concept vehicles – and there’s the possibility of multiple infotainment screens including the back seat. Sunday at CES, Kirchert said prices will range from mid-forties into the seventies for the “first smart device on wheels.” A half-dozen Byton executives extolled Byton’s ability to entertain driver and passengers, including a content-sourcing agreement with ViacomCBS. There’s one little catch: The cornucopia of video entertainment won’t happen in the front seat unless the car is parked. Sorry.

Byton’s 48-inch wall-to-wall screen. Here showing partner ViacomCBS’s content. Which disappears the minute you put the car in Drive. (It’s still available in the back seat.)

Branded Content Providers, App Dev Program

Byton wants to make the in-car experience the automaker’s difference-maker. (Yes, they all say that, but Byton wants to be the company that walks the walk.) Byton believes the time spent in the car could be a richer experience for passengers now, for drivers in the next decade as fuller autonomy arrives circa 2030. Sunday, it announced seven partners.

The big name is ViacomCBS plus Twine Access (which handles distributing infotainment to the front and rear displays as well as in-car connected devices) for the in-car theater experience, as Byton says. Occupants will be able to view, over 4G or 5G connections, curated content from the entertainment giant. It was amusing to see video snippets of 55-year-old David Spade (SNL, Police Academy 4) and even-older Tom Brady, but the video no doubt went together before the New England Patriots were taken down by the Tennessee Titans Saturday.

There’s also AccuWeather with real-time weather updates, possibly minute-by-minute reports on conditions ahead. Aiqudo provides voice control of apps. CloudCar provides “a cloud-based infrastructure.” Road.Travel allows for online trip booking. Xperi provides digital HD radio.

According to Ray Hopkins, president of US networks distribution for ViacomCBS, “The future of in-vehicle infotainment is an exciting opportunity to strengthen and extend our connection to our audiences within today’s fragmented media environment.” It remains to be seen how much car owners want to pay for access to some entertainment but not all that’s available, unless it’s easier to find, and targets the demographics of the adults, teens, and children in the car. In other words, if the automaker gives you a high-speed connection (M-Byte will have 4G then 5G cellular data), what more do you need, beyond perhaps better voice search that works well in the car? Byton notes that CloudCar delivers a range of apps.

Byton wants even more developers writing apps for the car, or porting them over. Sunday, Byton said it has released UX (user experience) design documentation along with app-development guidelines for partners and developers. It’s looking for offerings in the areas of entertainment, health, productivity, and e-commerce.

Being in a Byton, the company says, “make[s] spending time between journeys every bit as engaging as time spent on the road.” That is, the car is a home entertainment room when it’s parked. The big display is a single 48-inch diagonal panel. Panels do exist that twist the visual orientation so the viewer to the left sees one image and the viewer on the right sees a different image. Sharp invented the technology and Mercedes-Benz has offered it on higher-end vehicles. It is more costly and each image has half the resolution, since one viewer sees pixel 1, 3, 5, 7, etcetera, while the passenger sees pixels 2, 4, 6, 8 and so forth. The other option is the old-fashioned one: The front passenger connects his or her iPad to the car’s internet connection.

The cellular data connection will provide infotainment over-the-air updates, which may consist of engine/drivetrain updates and possibly greater self-driving capabilities, at least those possible with smarter software applied to the onboard cameras, sonar, lidar and radar hardware that ships initially. Byton’s will be delivered with a minimum of Level 2 autonomy, meaning a combination of lane centering on highways and full-range adaptive cruise control.

Electrify America will provide coast-to-coast charging services in the US.

Charging Partner, Home Energy Storage

Tesla has a mega-advantage with its nationwide Supercharger network and the off-and-on free-charging campaigns. Byton has chosen to partner with Electrify America, the biggest DC Fast Charging network in the US. By the time the first Byton arrives in the US, there will be 800 charging stations and 3,500 chargers. EA will also provide access to other charge sites via a single billing arrangement. Some of the Byton charging will be comped, but buyers should expect to foot the bill for much of their away-from-home charging.

Separately, Byton plans to offer its car batteries as home backup power. The batteries lose total capacity (and range) over several years. When they reach, say two-thirds to half of their original capacity, the car owner may not want the battery, but a bank of them can be put into a home wall of power (as Tesla does with Powerwall) and provide a day or two of backup power – not as much as a home generator, but enough to get through most blackouts.

Team Byton, a truly multinational group, on stage at the end of Sunday’s press conference.

Lots of EVs at CES (Who’s Going to Buy Them?)

Byton is not alone in choosing CES 2020 to make a big splash. The Car/Electronics Show, or so it seems, is awash in electric vehicles. Their optimism of their makers is good news. But a big question remains for these CES showcase companies and vehicles …

  • BMW i3 Urban Suite
  • Byton M-Byte
  • Fiat Concept Centoventi
  • Fisker Ocean
  • Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • Mercedes-Benz ECQ
  • Nissan Ariya (likely Nissan Leaf successor), possibly the most important CES EV announcement
  • Rivian R1S (SUV) and R1T (pickup)

… and the question is: When will the US public shift over from combustion-engine vehicles to pure EVs? Final 2019 EV sales numbers are still coming in but, in the US, in 2018, total sales of non-Tesla battery electric vehicles (pure EVs) were just 50,000 units. In the first three weeks of January, Ford’s F-Series pickups outsold a full year of everybody-but-Tesla EVs.

With its 48-inch display, a team of executives from the US, Europe, and Asia, and solid funding, Byton may well be one of the EV makers with staying power. But it’s an uphill climb for everyone.

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