In Vegas, Byton doubles down on its screen-dominated strategy

Chinese EV maker Byton returned to CES to present an update on its M-Byte all-electric SUV. CEO Daniel Kirchert kicked off the presentation by sharing news of the company’s progress to a market introduction in China later this year. There was little new information about the vehicle’s design, powertrain, and manufacturing. Instead, the focus of the presentation was media services that will be brought to the car’s ubiquitous screens.

The specs of the vehicle have been known for about two years. The giant, 4-foot-wide screen remains the headline. We took our first ride in the screen-dominated M-Byte in late 2018. So the focus in early 2020 is on whether or not Byton can manufacture a high-quality automobile.

Kirchert shared these updates:

We kicked off our pilot production at the beginning of October 2019. The first pilot production model, the M-Byte PP01, successfully drove off the assembly line on October 22, 2019, and relevant tests started in November.

Various tests such as collision tests, dynamic performance tests, reliability, controllability, and stability tests were conducted on the first batch of vehicles.

This will help to verify and optimize the Byton M-Byte to manufacturing maturity as pilot production progresses, paving the way for full-fledged production scheduled later this year. Located in Nanjing, Byton’s intelligent manufacturing base covers an area of 800,000 square meters and a plant capacity of up to 300,000 units.

A couple of months ago, we spoke with Jose Guerrero, managing director of Byton Americas, who told us that the US launch is on target for the second half of 2021. But until then, the company is focusing on the introduction of M-Byte in China in 2020.

Nonetheless, a slide from the presentation at CES revealed nine places for their retail locations that are halfway between dealerships and standalone stores. It appears that there will be two in Southern California, two in Northern California, as well as in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, and outlets in Texas, Florida, and New York.

The Vegas presentation skimmed through EV-related topics such as the range, acceleration, and charging. More time was spent on presenting how the large screen can be used for displaying family photos, meeting schedules, local weather, stock portfolios, and conducting business conferences.

Here’s a quick snippet of the opening minute. The crowd’s response was less than enthusiastic.

Many of the screen functions will be disabled unless the vehicle is parked. While driving, the amount of the dashboard screen real estate will collapse to more familiar car-related tasks. At night, the screen will be dimmed.

Executives talked about Byton’s heavy use of screens and high-speed, always-on connectivity as “future-proofing” the vehicle. In other words, the most robust aspects of drivers and passengers being surrounded by screens will come into play when Byton introduces higher levels of autonomy at a future date.

In the meantime, more minutes of the presentation were dedicated to a presentation of ViacomCBS’s tepid primetime programming — which will be available in a Byton partnership —  than the M-Byte’s road manners, or the company’s battery and charging strategies.

That said, Kirchert confimed that the M-Byte will offer a range of between 250 to 325 miles at a starting price of $45,000. He quickly returned to the key value proposition of the M-Byte.

The traditional performance figures are not the only key factors that allow us to compare our product to the established players on the market. This car is so much more than a fully electric vehicle for everyday use. What really makes the M-Byte is how it provides a platform for a life in a world beyond driving.

Kirchert called the digital platform a “vital stage” and said that other aspects of the vehicle were “built around” that idea.

Electrek’s Take

We are now familiar with Byton’s 48-inch dashboard screen and its digital-first strategy. But it’s still a head-scratcher. Byton has told us that its approach is an “i-Phone moment.” By that, Byton means that we might not realize that we want cars to become highly immersive connected devices on wheels. But once people start experiencing it, the world will be changed.

Until the world experiences this collective a-ha moment, we remain skeptical. In the meanwhile, we don’t mind listening to an audio-only streaming music playlist or podcast — and focusing on the road. Whether or not this becomes an outdated notion and we missed the next big thing remains to be seen. What do you think?

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.