Chinese Startup Byton Reveals Its Electric SUV Concept at CES 2018

Will Byton be the next Tesla, or the next Faraday Future?

Byton

A mysterious startup with ties to China unveils a futuristic electric concept car at CES, making lots of promises about being the next Tesla. We've seen this movie before with Faraday Future and found the second act to be a bit of a downer. But Chinese startup Byton thinks it can do better.

Byton emerged out of nowhere and unveiled an electric SUV concept at CES 2018. It previews a model this embryonic car company hopes to get into production by 2019. But as with all automotive startups, it's unclear whether Byton will be up to the task of building and selling cars on a large scale.

But is the Byton concept even something people would want to buy? Unlike fellow startups Faraday and Lucid Motors, Byton doesn't seem to be that interested in style or performance. 

The SUV is fairly generic looking, and its stats seem merely adequate in the emerging field of long-range electric cars. When it goes into production, the base model will have 272-horsepower and a range of 250 miles, according to Byton. Higher-end models will have 476-hp and a range of 325 miles, the company said. An estimated base price of $45,000 splits the difference between a Tesla Model 3 and Model S.

Byton's real focus seems to be infotainment. A massive display screen runs from one end of the concept's dashboard to another. The steering wheel has a screen too (where does the airbag go?) and there are screens attached to the backs of the front seats for rear-seat passengers to use. The screens are controlled through a  combination of voice control, facial recognition, and gesture control. The main dashboard screen is touch sensitive, but the rear screens aren't, for some reason.

Byton plans to use a cloud platform to store data on its drivers. That may sound a bit creepy, but the company says it will be used to create personal profiles. When a customer gets into any Byton car, the vehicle will automatically sync to their personal preferences. That should come in handy for ride-sharing, and so should a promised facial-recognition feature that unlocks a car's doors.

While Byton is going all in on interactivity, it's somewhat less conservative when it comes to that other CES buzzword: autonomy. When the car launches in 2019, Byton says it will have SAE Level 3 autonomous capability. The company hopes to move up to Level 4 by 2020. Byton did not discuss plans to achieve the highest autonomy level, Level 5.

Byton plans to begin production of its electric SUV in China in 2019. U.S. sales will start in 2020, the company says. the SUV will be followed by sedan and minivan models in 2021, and 2022, respectively, according to Byton. But considering the fates of Faraday Future and other electric-car startups, Byton will probably be lucky to get one model into production.