By on January 8, 2018

Byton SIV concept

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

Byton SIV concept

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 SIV concept

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.”

Byton SIV concept

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.

Byton SIV concept

[Images: Byton]

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13 Comments on “Place Your Bets: Another Chinese-backed Startup ‘Ready’ to Challenge Tesla...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Too many question marks here.

    You don’t build a car factory with only $320 million. Any meaningful volume to challenge Tesla means you also need a Gigafactory; they can’t source batteries from Alibaba.

    You don’t declare yourself to be a ‘humble’ car company, then propose Level 3 autonomy and a dash-wide electronic display, facial recognition, and ‘fitness sensors’ – whatever that means.

    While a $45k 71-kWh SUV is compelling, nobody has one yet. Tesla’s Model Y will certainly cost more, but its ETA is the 12th of Never. I’d bet on the Bolt-derived CUV to be first.

    • 0 avatar

      Another oil price crusher.

      I’ll be buying gasoline for a buck a gallon (plus tax of course) when this manufacturing behemoth comes on line.

    • 0 avatar

      It’ll happen eventually. A Chinese electric car will happen and it will be at least somewhat competitive. That said, it won’t be this one. Nor will it be the next 10 that pop up out of nowhere. All these pie-in-the-sky concept cars that are going to have 1,000 hp, 500 mile ranges, 7 minute recharge times, fully autonomous driving, and any other ridiculous claim just aren’t going to happen. Even Tesla started out modest with the original roadster. It took an existing platform and modified it. The only “big” thing it did was make the car electric. All these people that come out with these crazy claims are just getting headlines for investment dollars that disappear faster than they showed up.

    • 0 avatar

      They are just following Tesla’s lead of overpromising and underdelivering.

  • avatar

    The window won’t go up on my new EV, it leaks like a SIV when it rains!

  • avatar
    The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

    There are plenty of good, unused model names for Byton to choose from once they hit their stride.
    Just for starters: the Byton Bedbug, the Byton Skeeter, and the Byton Horsefly.
    Later, higher performance models could be called the Byton Bullet Ant and the Byton Stonefish.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    I have a friend who just went to work for them. It will be interesting to hear from him what he thinks.

  • avatar

    There are about 173 Chinese EV companies ready to use the batteries China plans to corner the world market with. They own nearly all the futures for cobalt fron the Congo, and have their own lithium carbonate deposits. Factories bigger than the giGafactory are being built as we speak.

    Of the 459 models of EVs from the 173 manufacturers of EVs in China, the Byton is but onw.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Byton is the company where the core of BMW’s i3/i8 team went:

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