Place Your Bets: Another Chinese-backed Startup 'Ready' to Challenge Tesla

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
place your bets another chinese backed startup 8216 ready to challenge tesla

On Sunday at CES, Chinese-backed car startup Byton officially unveiled its first drivable prototype. The all-electric crossover, dubbed the SIV, arrived with its dashboard-encompassing touchscreen intact. Byton says the car will be available near the end of 2019 with the 49-inch “shared-experience” display, touchscreen steering wheel, Amazon’s Alexa, and Level 3 autonomy.

Despite a demo video featuring some cringe-worthy acting, Byton’s unveiling went off without a hitch. The company even released footage of the SIV putting around a parking lot a day early to prove that it had, in fact, build a functional prototype. But it’s promising quite a bit on a relatively narrow timeline, and we’ve seen how poorly that can play out for a Chinese-backed EV startup.

On paper, the SIV is likely to be outperformed by Tesla’s Model 3. A 201-horsepower motor in the front and a 268-hp e-mill at the rear, connected to a standard 71 kWh battery, could match the Model 3’s straight-line acceleration, but it isn’t likely to outdo its projected range. Likewise, Byton says its crossover should start at $45,000 — giving the price advantage to Tesla as well.

However, the startup feels confident it can avoid Tesla’s production problems and deliver a car that’s bigger on features and comfort. That’s tough talk from a company that is nowhere near the assembly stage. We all remember how ambitious Faraday Future was when it first appeared on the scene and what ultimately happened to its “ Tesla Killer.”

Byton’s marketing appears highly similar to what we’ve seen from the likes of Faraday and Lynk & Co. It’s heavy on tech and promises, showcasing a two-tone crossover, backed by abstract graphics and simple slogans like “Time to be.” It makes us slightly uneasy, if only because it feels so familiar. But the important thing is how it intends to actually build the car.

Presently, Byton claims to have raised around $320 million in funding and employs roughly 400 people (some of whom came from Faraday Future). While that’s great for a tech startup, it’s not enough for an automotive manufacturer seeking volume.

However, in a recent interview with Jalopnik, company executives explained they want to take a practical approach. The strategy is to work with established suppliers and be realistic about production and technology, rather than over-promising and being unable to deliver. “We’re trying to be humble and down to Earth,” Co-founder Daniel Kirchert said in response to a queries on how it would beat Tesla. “We want to have the product speak for itself.”

Perhaps, but the company is promising quite a bit already. Whether or not it’s tapping suppliers for its kit, Byton says the SIV will have things like facial recognition technology, top-tier connectivity, phone applications, an in-car app, Level 3 autonomy, onboard fitness sensors, and just about everything else you’d expect from an expensive luxury vehicle.

Promises aside, the industrial plan is for Byton to double its staff by the end of 2018, with workers streaming into its Nanjing factory as production ramps up. But production has yet to begin; the exiting prototypes were all hand-built and the Chinese plant isn’t even fully licensed by Chinese authorities yet. That’s not to say that it won’t be soon, but Byton has plenty to do before it truly hits the ground running — and fundraising will be a big part of that.

This leaves us wondering if we’ll have a legitimate automaker in the next few years or yet another example of how difficult it is to actually become one.

[Images: Byton]

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2 of 13 comments
  • Jeff S Corey Lewis--GM designed those cars shortly after the 1978 oil crisis caused by a reduction in oil production in Iran and the eventual over throw of the Shah and the Iranian hostage crisis. GM anticipated gas would be $5 a gallon and up and that there would be shortages of oil. By the late 80s the supply of oil stabilized and gas and diesel prices stabilized. Ford didn't have the resources to completely redesign all their cars and except for the midsize, compact, and small cars that were front wheel drive and that is why Ford held onto the Panther platform for so long. GM just on the X car design and development spent 2.5 billion dollars and spent at least another billion on the C platform that was used on those 1985 full size front wheel drive cars.
  • SilverCoupe I am one of those people whose Venn diagram of interests would include Audis and Formula One.I am not so much into Forums, though. I spend enough time just watching the races.
  • Jeff S Definitely and very soon. Build a hybrid pickup and price it in the Maverick price range. Toyota if they can do this soon could grab the No 1 spot from Maverick.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would be a neat car if restored, and a lot of good parts are there. But also a lot of very challenging obstacles, even just from what we can see from the pictures. It's going to be hard to justify a restoration financially.
  • Jeff S Ford was in a slump during this era and its savior was a few years away from being introduced. The 1986 Taurus and Sable saved Ford from bankruptcy and Ford bet the farm on them. Ford was also helped by the 1985 downsize front wheel drive full sized GM cars. Lincoln in 1987 even spoofed these new full size GM cars in an ad basically showing it was hard to tell the difference between a Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile. This not only helped Lincoln sales but Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria sales. For GM full size buyers that liked the downsized GM full size 77 to 84 they had the Panther based Lincoln Town Cars, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford Crown Victorias that were an alternative to the new GM front wheel drive full size cars that had many issues when they were introduced in 1985 and many of those issues were not resolved for several years. The Marks were losing popularity after the Mark Vs. 1985 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Olds Delta 88 and rear wheel drive Buick Lesabre the rear wheel Caprice and Caprice Classic 3rd generation continued till 1990 when it was redesigned. B Body Buick Estate wagons continued thru 1990 as the Olds Custom Cruiser wagon and both were redesigned. GM held onto a few rear wheel drive full size cars but the Lincoln ad really brought home the similarly looking front wheel drive full size cars. Lincoln's ad was masterful.