Byton on a charge
Make no mistake, the Byton M-Byte that debuted at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show is—in effect—the final production version of the vehicle. Anna-Maria Schumacher, Senior Product Manager, Byton, was quick to confirm that fact, but added the caveat that there might be “some small refinements” before the car is launched in China in 2020 and Europe and the U.S. in 2021.
The M-Byte is the first vehicle from Byton since the company was founded in 2017. Aimed at the premium market, the all-electric medium SUV offers a choice of a 72 or 95 kW·h lithium-ion battery pack, which provide WLTP cycle-approved driving ranges up to 360 and 435 km (224 and 270 mi), respectively.
The entry level 2WD M-Byte uses a single rear-mounted electric motor with a peak output of 200 kW, while the 4WD high-level configuration is rated at 300 kW. The company promises compliance with local charging and plug standards according to region and feature GBT/CCSl or CCS2 charging interfaces. According to regional market conditions, fast DC charging is up to 150 kW and AC charging between 3.7 and 22 kW. With the use of a 150-kW DC fast charger, the battery can be 80% replenished from empty in 35 min.
One of the major components of the car is a one-piece 48-in-wide infotainment screen, the integration of which was core to the main goal of the M-Byte.
“The car is totally focused on the user experience, so as long as you use the screen in a way that doesn’t distract the driver, it offers many advantages,” said Schumacher. “It provides so much content that you can watch or use—the aim is to use the space available within the vehicle to the maximum benefit of the passengers.”
Schumacher explained that the huge screen can be accessed via voice, touch, and gesture, the front passenger as well as the driver being able to control the display in all of these ways. A reduced number of actual physical buttons leads to a more minimalistic interior and also reduces the complexity for the user. For the driver, there is also a facial-recognition system that can help adjust the seat, audio, and climate to his or her specific requirements. Each user will have a specific Byton ID to upload those preferences to any vehicle from the Chinese brand that the user drives.
Another innovation inside the cabin is the adoption of rotating front seats that can be moved inward by up to 10 degrees.
“There are several advantages to the rotating seats,” explained Schumacher. “The two front passengers can talk to each other more easily, while it also opens up the view of the large front LED screen for the benefit of the two rear passengers.”
She confirmed that the driver’s seat can only be adjusted when the vehicle is at a standstill, unlike the passenger seat, which can be rotated at any time.
“The system has been integrated with autonomous driving in mind, when we hope that you will be able to swivel while you are driving autonomously,” Schumacher added.
Outside the car, special attention has been paid to the lighting system, with Byton’s Smart Surface at the front and rear of the vehicle turning it into what the company is calling “an exterior user interface.” Again, these elements are a sign that that Byton is preparing the M-Byte for autonomous driving. There are additional lighting elements that enable communication between the car and the external environment through messages or status displayed by different colors or light patterns.
From launch, however, the lights have been configured to greet the user—enabled by Bluetooth connectivity that the car picks up from a user’s smartphone—and also the state of charge.
“When you charge the vehicle the lights are green and flashing. When charging is completed, the output changes to a solid green light,” said Schumacher.
Another Bluetooth-enabled function is the ability to automatically protrude the normally flush door handles when the driver approaches, giving the user easier and quicker access to the vehicle.
In Frankfurt, Byton gave a little background on its M-Byte engineering and prototype activities. The complete vehicle testing program began in mid-2018 and has been progressing steadily. The company was currently in the Attribute Prototype (AP) testing stage, with nearly a hundred M-Byte AP vehicles built so far for various tests taking place globally.
The company has passed several intensive tests not mandatory by China standards. It conducted the North American IIHS 25% small offset crash test—considered the world’s most stringent frontal impact test, claims Byton—and Euro NCAP side pole impact test in China, with results exceeding expectations.
Byton claims that the chassis design and technical layout of the M-Byte is designed to meet or exceed the comfort and maneuverability of premium class leaders, with a focus on a properly developed suspension and progressive brakes—among others. The testing will continue, with results and milestones released as the vehicle advances toward its start of production.
That start of production has come quickly. The Frankfurt unveiling came just two years after design work began.
“Within that short amount of time, together we have taken a smart electric car from an initial idea on a white sheet of paper to series production readiness while also building a coherent infrastructure with locations on three continents and an efficient Industry 4.0 production facility in China. We can rightfully be proud of this,” says Dr. Daniel Kirchert, Byton’s Chief Executive Officer and Founder.
With headquarters in Nanjing, China, and R&D centers around the world, the company expects to deliver the first M-Bytes to Chinese customers in the middle of 2020. The company was about to close its C-round fundraising, which will secure an estimated $500 million from the likes of investors include FAW Group and the Nanjing municipal government. Some of that funding should help finalize the 300,000-unit manufacturing base. Construction of the five major workshops—for stamping, welding, painting, assembly, and battery—has been completed, with equipment currently being installed. The company expects to start taking preorders in Europe and North America in 2020 followed by market entry in each in 2021.