Byton, a Chinese electric vehicle startup, is showing two models at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show this week as it prepares to launch sales in the U.S. and China.
The first vehicle to hit public roads will be the M-Byte SUV, expected stateside in mid-2020. Byton said the M-Byte will have up to 325 miles of range, autonomous driving capability and crazy features such as an enormous 49-inch touchscreen display. The vehicle will be made in China.
Trucks.com sat down with Carsten Breitfeld, co-founder and chief executive at Byton, and discussed the market for electric vehicles, autonomous driving and inevitable comparisons to Tesla. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Is the U.S. market ready for a car like the M-Byte?
I would say Yes. Look at how many people buy Teslas. Our cars are not going to sell because they are electric; they might sell in spite of being electric. We are marketing a smart device, that the user experience you get is something completely new. Apple didn’t market the processor speed in the iPhone. They sold the user experience, what you can do with it. This integration of functionality, having the whole digital world at your fingertips, is the new thing.
Is there demand for EVs without heavy incentives and rebates?
If you could have done a market study the day before the iPhone came out it would have said there was no market for it. Henry Ford said, “If I would have asked the customer what they want, they would have told me faster horses.” It’s not about market potential; it’s about creating the right product. Most people who experience a Tesla will never go back to something else. If you create products that people get excited about, you create market potential. For Europe it might be difficult, I agree; people have been buying BMW and Mercedes for generations. But in China they just look for the best opportunity. If you convince them, they will stay. If you don’t convince them, they will go to the next thing.
How will Byton succeed in such a crowded market?
There is no market our car is in right now. We are not competing only against Tesla. Our competitors are BMW X5, Audi Q5 — those kinds of cars. If I compare the X5 or Q5 to a very well done Nokia phone, our car will be the iPhone. And you know how this went: In the beginning everyone said, “Why do I need it?” But if they use it and really understand it, people will switch.
Do automakers have a responsibility to reduce the emissions of their vehicles?
They should. We want to leave the world in a better position than it is now. Not only pollution, but bringing autonomous drive and shared mobility to the market, which will reduce the cars on the road and reduce traffic accidents.
All the carmakers should feel tremendous responsibility. They can build electric cars in any quantity, in any quality, at a competitive price. But they invested billions in other technology. They have hundreds of thousands of people trying to build combustion engine cars. The profitability is built on this business model.
What is next for Byton?
We are working on more. For instance, a purpose-built shared mobility car with space for only one passenger, maybe two. One seat can be in complete luxury, like a firs- class seat in an airplane with a bed and a very digital experience. Those cars will be smaller but still give a much better experience. We are working on such a concept in Los Angeles. It’s quite advanced, with very fancy technology, and we are going to show something at one of the next events.
In the future will all vehicles be autonomous?
In the next 20 years – I’m an engineer and I’m maybe too realistic, but this will not happen. We don’t need it! If you go out on small roads in the German countryside you will not need an autonomous car there. But if you live in Los Angeles or Beijing or Shanghai, then you might want to have it because there is no driving fun at all, and you just waste your time. It can take two hours to go five kilometers. These are the areas where we have the ability for autonomy to start. You need a high-speed communication network that is very reliable, you have to have very good digitized data, and you might need some infrastructure. So the preconditions to make this work is in urban areas.