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A China-based startup established by former BMW AG executives is among the latest to take a swing at the growing market for electric and autonomous vehicles, competing against giants such as Nissan Motor Co. and General Motors Co.
Byton, formerly known as Future Mobility Corp., unveiled a concept SUV at CES in Las Vegas on Sunday, and said its first mass production model will be available for sale next year starting at $45,000. The company will complete its Nanjing factory in late 2018 and start production a year later, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Daniel Kirchert told reporters at the event.
Promising internet connectivity and digital services in its Smart Intuitive Vehicles, or SIVs, Byton is among a crop of companies aiming to upend traditional carmakers as power trains move away from polluting fuels. They are also seeking to take on leaders such as Tesla Inc. by offering newer technologies as the race heats up for batteries with longer driving ranges and as leading markets, including China, consider phasing out automobiles powered by gasoline and diesel.
“China is the world’s fastest-growing and biggest EV market, but at the same time, it is short of global players and companies producing products that can compete with the best premium players in the world,” Kirchert said.
Kirchert said in August that their startup received $200 million from a fund of Suning Holdings Group Co. and some state-owned firms in Jiangsu province. Byton also counts investors including China Harmony New Energy Auto Holding Ltd.
Another Chinese EV startup, NIO, set up in 2014 by founder William Li and a group of Internet entrepreneurs, started selling its first model last month at about $69,000.
Tesla’s Model 3 starts at $35,000. NIO has raised more than $1 billion from investors including Tencent Holdings Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter. XPeng Motors, backed by funding from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., is set to unveil its production model at CES on Tuesday.
Byton is partnering with Robert Bosch GmbH and France’s Faurecia, and will announce a strategic tie-up in Silicon Valley for autonomous vehicle development this month, Chief Executive Officer Carsten Breitfeld said.
Breitfeld was a leading engineer for BMW’s i8 electric car and worked at the German maker for about 20 years, while Kirchert was in charge of marketing at BMW’s local venture in China, with stints at Nissan’s Infiniti as well.
Key features offered by Byton:
- Driving range of 400 km for base model, 520 km for higher, four-wheel drive variant
- 80% of the battery can be recharged in 30 minutes
- Production car to have L3 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems; L4 autonomous driving to be enabled from 2020 via a software upgrade
- Concept supports video and teleconference capability
- Human-vehicle interaction incorporates voice recognition, touch control, biometric identification and hand gestures