After having served as BMW group vice president for over a decade and heading up BMW’s i8 vehicle program, Carsten Breitfeld left to set up Byton in 2016, with Daniel Kirchert, former managing director of Infiniti China. Positioned as a challenger to Tesla, the company debuted its first drivable concept car at the CES in Las Vegas in 2018, and created quite the buzz. Objective: commercialization in China in 2019 at the price of $45,000.
Leaders League. Byton Concept created a buzz at CES 2018 with its futuristic design and features. Is it fair to say that you prioritize internet connectivity and digital services over mobility?
Carsten Breitfeld. The feedback on our concept car was, and still is, completely overwhelming. That was a huge boost for Byton as a new premium brand and for all members of the Byton family.
The answer to your question is found in today’s mobility. There are so many situations where the time spent in a car is wasted, because of traffic jams, annoying circulation to find a parking space and so on. What do people really want? Individual mobility, safety and a certain level of customization and ownership, especially when it comes to premium customers. We want to feel at home, even when we are on the road. We all want the same good feeling that we have when we are in our living room. And the same or better level of being connected to the world.
This is exactly where Byton is looking for answers. We develop solutions to make time enjoyable for people on the move.
We created an electric platform for three different Byton models. With screens and face recognition cameras for every person inside the car and with broadband connectivity, we make sure that seamless web connection and individual content can be enjoyed.
Autonomous driving functions will reduce stress and give you the choice of how you want to use your time.
But this is just one part of the company. With tailor-made digital services, we give you even more opportunities to spend your time on useful activities. And as a next step, we will offer purpose built solutions for shared mobility.
You mentioned at the CES that Byton is redefining the possibilities of what a vehicle can be, so what do you think people will expect from a vehicle in the future?
People will expect it to be, what one might term a smart, feel-good mode of transportation. The car has to meet the needs of modern digital lifestyle in terms of connectivity and convenience for the driver and passengers. Innovative functions like gesture or voice controls will make the handling of the car increasingly convenient. In addition, autonomous driving will be the key for safety and converting the time spent in the car into either a pleasurable or a productive time.
For this reason, an extensive range of driver assistance systems and support for autonomous driving up to level 4 are also part of the Byton Concept’s focus as a premium vehicle. Besides cameras, the vehicle is equipped with ultrasonic sensors, short, mid and long-range radars and laser scanners in order to achieve this. Software updates continually add to the range of functions, and the vehicle architecture permits technology upgrades to be performed on rapidly developing components such as sensors and cameras. When it comes to the development of production-ready autonomous driving systems, Byton cooperates with leading industry partners. The same applies to drive development.
One negative aspect of electric cars compared to traditional vehicles is the limited range batteries can provide & the lack of recharging stations. How are you planning to overcome this?
In terms of propulsion, Byton uses powerful electric motors either on the rear axle or on both axles in the four-wheel-drive model. With a power output of 200 kW (400 NM of torque) for the rear-wheel-drive version and 350 kW (710 NM of torque) for the four-wheel-drive model, Byton is fully exploiting the advantages of e-mobility. The range is 400 km (248 miles) or – with the upgraded battery pack – 520 km (323 miles). With this range we really do not need a recharging station around the next corner.
The Li-ion battery is modular, with the individual cells combined in modules. It is housed inside a crash-proof battery case and forms an integral part of the vehicle’s chassis. This means weight is distributed perfectly and the solution is scalable. Battery cells can be changed easily with each technology update.
A major concern with intelligent cars is data protection. What are you doing concerning the data security of users?
Safety and security is also extremely important in all aspects of connectivity. The team at Byton Security Lab has not only developed encryption technology for the vehicle communication system’s data connections in the cloud, but also inside the vehicle. The vehicle architecture is designed for the 5G era, and will be able to support data transfer speeds from the Internet of up to 10 Gbit/s thanks to the roof-integrated slimline antenna.
"It is not about just doing things as good or even better than the old automotive economy, it is more about doing things differently"
The electric car market is becoming increasingly crowded, with startups and established players vying for position. What will the market look like five years from now, both in China and globally?
We are all sure that cars of the future will be mainly electric-driven. In China and most Asian countries, the process of changing this mobility might be a bit faster than elsewhere, but the demand in Europe and the USA is also increasing further. We believe that simply offering an electric car will mean nothing without a unique concept. For this reason, Byton will never define itself on its electric power train but more on its general concept as a modern way of smart and connected mobility.
In spite of China’s rapid economic progress, its car industry is still lagging behind other countries in terms of quality and innovation. How can we get to a point where international consumers are prepared to buy a Chinese-made automobile?
Byton’s cars are developed by a global team of designers and engineers, based in China, Europe and California. All of them are leading experts in their field – automotive, consumer electronics, connectivity, car design or powertrain. The key for international success is not rocket science but rather quality, innovation and design together with an attractive price tag. Therefore, we have to leave beaten trails and think outside of the box. It is not about just doing things as good or even better than the old automotive economy, it is more about doing things differently. The initial feedback we received on our first Byton Concept, even from very experienced car journalists, was overwhelmingly positive.
What measures do you think are important in order to further develop electric vehicles worldwide?
We live in an age in which a new course is being set. It is important for car manufacturers but also authorities to really understand how the understanding and the needs of mobility have changed and are still changing. When it comes to costs, an electric car should not be more expensive than a conventional car – not just in terms of the total cost of ownership but also in terms of the price tag. From our perspective, it should not be the role of the government or anyone else to subsidize and therefore push the technology artificially in the market. The price of battery cells is also rapidly decreasing. Electric power trains are also much cheaper than its fuel-driven pendant – with better reliability and a much longer life. The entry price for our first Byton will be around $45,000 – which is more than competitive in the field of premium SUVs. This, when connected with a modern scalable production plant, will enable manufacturers to focus themselves more on the overall concept of their car rather than on its energy source. Our aim at Byton is to shape the world of personal transportation in the same way as the smartphone did for digital communications. We are focusing on simplification, seamless connectivity as well as personal transportation and digitization as a premium experience. With this in mind, we consider every aspect and every technical solution from the customer’s perspective.
Find more analysis, articles & interviews in our 2018 Innovation, Technology & IP Report to be released in May.