The 48-in (1219-mm) LCD screen atop the Byton M-byte concept car’s instrument panel is not only the auto industry’s largest in-vehicle display. It also signals what could be a radical shift in the classic automotive business model. The Chinese-owned automaker gave a close-up look at the M-byte and its second model, the K-byte sedan, during a news conference at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. In keeping with the digital theme of CES, Byton focused on the user interface that will become one of the critical parts of both its new products and its business strategy.
Byton’s approach reflects a variety of changes sweeping through the world of transportation. “Our business model will not just be about selling cars, but using the car as a platform,” CEO Carsten Breitfeld said in an impromptu interview following its CES news conference. “In the future, we will make more money selling digital content and shared mobility.”
That starts with the new screen which is as wide as seven Apple iPads, as well as a screen mounted in the center console and another floating above the steering wheel. The M-byte also will utilize gesture and voice controls; the electric SUV integrates Amazon’s Alexa personal voice assistant.
As vehicles add degrees of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and automated-driving capability, experts anticipate occupants will need to be entertained. The M-byte’s large front screen, along with dual displays for rear occupants—all linked to the cloud by 5G wireless connectivity—will be used to provide a variety of services. That includes pay-per-view video, as well as the opportunity to play games and even shop using Amazon Alexa.
It’s something that the start-up has dubbed “Byton Life,” and is meant to “transform those four wheels into the next-generation smart device,” CEO Carsten Breitfeld said in an interview. “M-byte could become the most important digital device in your life.”
Byton’s business strategy also takes into account the anticipated growth of ride- and vehicle-sharing services. The start-up plans to set up its own ride-sharing operations, rather than just selling its vehicles to existing services like Uber, Lyft or Waymo—the latter company recently launching the world’s first autonomous ride-sharing service in Phoenix, AZ.
As for the two products Byton has now revealed, the M-byte SUV will be the first to market. The company expects to launch production of the M-byte at a new plant in Nanjing, China, late this year, sales starting in that country by the fourth quarter; U.S. and European sales are expected to begin by the third quarter of 2020. The K-byte will launch in 2021, with a third model to follow two years later. The new plant will have the capacity to produce 300,000 vehicles annually, half targeting China, a third for the States.
The M-Byte, Breitfeld said, will start at $45,000 for a front-drive model using a 71-kWh battery delivering an estimated 250-mi (402-km) range. The upgraded all-wheel-drive version, with a 95-kWh, 325-mi (523-km) battery, will push into $60,000 territory when equipped with SAE Level 3 automated-driving capability and other features.