Byton unveils modular electric SUV designed for an ‘upgrade society’

Brand-new automotive design company Byton has unveiled its first concept car, due to go into production in late 2019.

The first Byton is planned to be a premium SUV, launched - along with the company - under the banner, "It’s not about refining cars. It’s about refining life."

The launch of the electric SUV will be followed in 2020 by a sedan and an MPV, all based on a similar platform.

At the launch event, much was made of a car that would save drivers and passengers from the drudgery of moving from A to B. Slogans such as "You were only made for living fully" and "Every hour wasted is an hour you won't get back" preceded the car's introduction, the presentation also reminding us that, calculated worldwide, people spend an average of 90 minutes a day in their cars, equating to 1.8 billion hours every day.

Byton would like to give drivers back this time, stating that a driver shouldn't have to "put your life on hold when you get into a car". Byton's Concept has been designed to "enrich and transform your driving" and to turn downtime into enjoyable time: "Time to be", as the company motto defines it.

Centred on the existing network of 4G/4.5G and the imminent 5G, connecting people with things and things with things, the aim of Byton all about connection, "building the next-generation smart device".

The presentation and overview of the Concept car came from Byton's co-founders, chief executive officer Dr Carsten Breitfeld - who previously led the BMW i8 vehicle programme, steering the i8 luxury plug-in hybrid model - and company president Dr Daniel Kirchert, who comes from working on brands such as BMW and Infiniti in China.  

With China already the fastest growing market for EVs, the stated goal for Byton is to produce the most intelligent and intuitive electric car, one that can compete with established automotive players.

As Breitfeld described it, the Concept has been built on a tailor-made EV platform, with a "sleek design language... intended to express efficiency".

A very smooth body profile, described as possessing "emotional styling" that will "replace horsepower with digital power", the Concept exemplifies the future-facing intent on Byton, with no rear-view mirrors outside the car - using rear-view cameras instead - and user authentication to unlock the car built into the B-pillar.

With one platform concept covering the world, rather than region-specific variants, the Concept has also been designed to be future-proof, not only updated through software but also the car's body itself has been prepared for future upgrades and advances in component design and capability.

In this way, Byton has geared its vehicles towards an "upgrade society, rather than a disposable one". It has been designed for even critical components to be replaced.

The autonomous design utilises four flat antennas, negating the need for the familar 'shark fin'. The processor can already handle a stated 10Gb of data per second about the car and its environment, which is 100 times faster than a current model smartphone. All antennas are ready for 5G.

"Your car will interact with your. Your Byton will greet you," Breitfeld explained. The car will also offer useful feedback based on analysis of driving data and machine learning, reporting on such aspects as battery level, vehicle health and component condition.

The company has also created the Byton security lab to produce its  smart security gateway, data security being "part of our DNA", as Breitfeld put it.

As sleek and beautiful as a car might be - has to be - on the outside, it is the interior where the main end-user focus is now. Byton was keen to showcase its "living-room experience" inside the car, where everything is adjustable to one's personal preferences.

The production models will also have the Concept's rotating front seats - "we are the first to make this happen" - and it's full-width digital screen that replaces a traditional dashboard. The edge-to-edge display is 1.25m wide and 0.25m tall and can display the usual social media updates, web sites and movies, as well as personal information about the front seat occupants. Byton will, apparently, be the first vehicle that "also functions like a wearable", monitoring the vital signs of the passengers.

Amazon's Alexa will be built-in for voice control and there will be an additional touchscreen on the steering wheel - another first - so there will be no distractions to the driver reaching to adjust something on the main dash. Instead, they can adjust it within a safe field of vision.

Byton has also taken inspriation from smartphone culture, with only five (hand) gestures required to operate and control the whole system.

The Byton Life open-cloud platform and the Byton ID of each individual driver or passenger will also enable each Byton to reset itself entirely to an individual's preferences, such that "every Byton will feel like your Byton". This is designed to encourage Byton uptake in a world of increasing shared mobility.

Byton claims this car is the first EV that fulfils the criteria on all the demands of every household, focusing on "Craftsmanship, quality and safety - the premium atrributes".

Being an electric vehicle, naturally charging is a key factor and Byton claims that in addition to the 320-350 miles of full-charge range, a fast charge of 20 minutes will enable an additional 100 miles, while a 30-minute charge will take the battery to 80 per cent.

The car itself is 4.85m long, 1.94m wide and 1.65m high and will launch in late 2019, first in China, with Level 3 autonomous capabilites, to then be followed by a Europe and US rollout in 2020, with Level 4.

Key industry partners such as Bosch are already onboard with Byton and the production plant in Nanjing is already under construction.

The base model (of two) has a starting price of $45,000 (£33,000). Interested parties can register their interest now on the Byton web site.

As a company, Byton - whose name is derived from the phrase 'Bytes on Wheels', representing the convergence of the internet and automobiles - has defined its aspiration to build premium intelligent electric vehicles for the future, integrating advanced digital technologies to offer a smart, safe, comfortable and eco-friendly driving and mobility experience.

Byton also hopes consumers will consider its vehicles as next-generation smart devices, designed to be no more difficult to operate than a smartphone.

Headquartered in Nanjing, China - also home to its intelligent manufacturing base and R&D centre - the Byton company team is based worldwide in a number of specialist centres, drawing on local expertise. In particular, Byton draws on long-established German automotive experience, locating its prototype design and concept model build in Munich.

In North America, it has an office in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley, where the focus is on developing cutting-edge technologies in intelligent car user experience and autonomous driving. Byton also has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to handle external affairs, marketing, sales, design and investor relations.

Byton's core management team is made up of senior personnel from China, Europe and the US, who have previously worked for such companies as BMW, Tesla, Google and Apple. The synergies produced for a future smart car company by those four brands alone are obvious, the team variously bringing with them key competencies in automotive design, automotive engineering and manufacturing, electric powertrain, intelligent connectivity, autonomous driving, user interface and supply chain management.

To describe the car as a 'future-facing smartphone on wheels' does the first Byton Concept no disservice.

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