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25th of June 2018

Automotive



Byton's K-Byte Electric Concept Makes Self-Driving Look Good

While Tesla has spent the past six months struggling to ramp up production of the Model 3 and fielding criticism over its Autopilot tech and safety protocols, one of its most intriguing wannabe rivals, Byton, has spent the first half of 2018 positioning itself to swipe Elon Musk's electric innovation crown.

The coup d'EV started in January at CES, with the reveal of a screen-stuffed concept SUV. In February, Byton announced a partnership with star-studded Aurora to bring self-driving smarts to its vehicles. And today, at CES Asia in Shanghai, it unveiled a second concept car, a small sedan that can't help but make you think of a certain car rolling off the assembly line in Silicon Valley.

Byton's new ride is the K-Byte, a three-box sedan with the front wheels pushed as far forward as possible. From the side it has the muscular look of a Dodge Charger. The rear lights wrap neatly around the trunk. Up front, things get a little more wild, with narrow slot headlights sitting atop a giant grinning grille that seems to open into a deep blackness pierced with laser lights. It's the kind of view you'd expect from the bridge of a starship headed into warp drive.

Look a bit closer and you can spot the sensors that Byton's engineers believe will let the K-Byte drive itself. Front- and rear-facing lidar units are built into the roof. Sensors and cameras pop out of the fender, just behind the front wheels. Byton's designers are clearly not cool with the cobbled together look of most robo-car prototypes. “You could think about an approach where you try to hide the sensors, or use them as design elements,” says CEO Carsten Breitfeld.

Oh, and he's pretty confident his startup can make great looking, high-quality cars. “This might sound a bit arrogant now, but we are making a claim for the design leadership in the car industry.”

Byton will sell cars to individuals, but it may also run fleet services—that's where the Aurora partnership and nicely integrated self-driving sensors come in handy.Byton

It may seem odd to be showcasing a second concept car before the company has started building and selling the first one, but Byton says its factory in Nanjing, China, is just starting to churn out the first prototypes of the SUV it unveiled in January (now branded the M-Byte), which it hopes to put on the market by the end of next year.

Unveiling this new sedan is supposed to prove that Byton can design and build different car bodies on its electric platform. Breitfeld says Byton will likely follow the SUV and the sedan with a seven-seater, minivan-style offering. The design is popular in its home market and could be useful in the age of autonomy as a driverless shuttle. Byton will sell cars to individuals, but it may also run fleet services—that's where the Aurora partnership comes in handy.

Like the other Chinese automakers hoping to penetrate the American market—Faraday Future, Lucid Motors, and SF Motors—Byton hasn't yet backed up its ambition by proving it can actually build compelling cars, let alone stick around long enough to challenge Elon Musk's automaker. But it did just net $500 million from investors including the FAW group, a Chinese state-owned automaker, effectively giving the government a stake in its success. And if it can build an electric ride with solid range, great technology, and a design as attractive as the concepts it’s showing, it stands a good chance. Americans already buy millions of Japanese and Korean cars a year, when the price and product are right. Byton wants to bring China to the party, and maybe give Tesla a shock in the process.

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