SHANGHAI – Dr. Daniel Kirchert and his team have been waiting and dreaming for this moment for more than a year. It may have been 20 years in the making.
So began BYTON, the new brand from Future Mobility Corp. (FMC), a Chinese smart EV startup co-founded by Dr. Kirchert in March 2016 with backing from Chinese internet giant Tencent and Hong Kong-listed dealer group Harmony Auto, here on September 7.
Known in industry circles for his native Chinese speaking abilities, deep knowledge of Chinese culture and previous stints at BMW and Infiniti that helped propel their brand reputations in China, Dr. Kirchert is now trying to push the new smart EV brand as president and co-founder of FMC in a country he calls second home.
“I’m honored that I can start up a business in China and establish a company rooted in China with a global reach,” said Dr. Kirchert in fluent mandarin Chinese at an event unveiling the new brand, which simply means “bytes on wheels,” as well as details of its first electric SUV and production plans.
Both BYTON and its Chinese name – Bai Teng – sound masculine, self-convinced, crisp, powerful and reflects FMC’s confidence, according to Dr. Kirchert, and the logo derives from the first letter of the brand name with two equally shaped circles, one for automotive and one for digital expertise. The design of the logo is open, dynamic, determined, pure and unique, and reflects a modern lifestyle and will appear as a premium trademark on all global stages.
Standing next to him throughout the event was Carsten Breitfeld, CEO and co-founder of FMC. As the former head of BMW’s i8 vehicle program, and like Dr. Kirchert, Breitfeld spent years at BMW before joining FMC, now with a core management team composed of senior executives and experts with previous experiences in automotive design, electric propulsion systems, connectivity, autonomous driving, engineering and manufacturing at BMW, Tesla and Google.
Breitfeld met Dr. Kirchert in 2015 after he began to think about starting up his own company and building cars that are even better than the i8, and the two immediately hit it off.
“With his age such an experience in the automotive business and such in-depth understanding of the Chinese market – that was the reason why I felt excited about the idea, building this company with him together, right from the beginning,” said Breitfeld.
“When we met there was chemistry right from the beginning. And when we started the discussion about our start-up, it was clear to me, with his outstanding engineering background and his authentic passion for creating something completely new, we will be able to build the ‘next generation smart device.’”
And so their paths crossed nearly 20 years after Breitfeld began his career at BMW and Dr. Kirchert began learning Chinese at Nanjing University. Dr. Kirchert is going back to his “roots” as Nanjing is now the global operations headquarters of FMC as well as the home of its smart EV industrial park, which broke ground on September 8, just a few hours after the BYTON unveiling. The production project, which is listed as a major project of Jiangsu Province, has an investment of ¥11.07 billion and annual output capacity of 300,000 units including 100,000 units for the first-phase, which is expected to go into production by the end of 2019.
Between now and then, FMC will use most of the $200 million in series-A financing it received earlier this year to build and market a brand and product that aims to provide enjoyable time for people on the move and turn miles into smiles.
“Approachability is at the center of the way we run our business and design our product,” said Dr. Kirchert. “We are developing a digital platform that is connected, intuitive and open to developers.”
That digital platform – BYTON Life – will offer four major functions: intuitive navigation, music, phone call and parking UI without the need to reach for a smart phone; seamless connection with your smart devices; newly developed and tailor-made apps for drivers and passengers and fully personalized experiences making the car instantly feel like it’s your own no matter who’s behind the wheel.
“Stay connected is a hard demand from consumers, even when driving. Our job is to find the solution to satisfy while achieving maximum convenience and safety. That’s why we spend most of our time making the user interface as intuitive as possible. These interfaces combined with AI assisted voice control, stay connected while driving will become safer than ever,” said Dr. Kirchert.
BYTON’s first model, a mid-size fully electric SUV, will be a three-in-one: a smart internet communicator, a living room and a fully electric car resulting in a smart device on wheels, according to Breitfeld.
The SUV will have a size of an Audi Q5 but the space of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and is equipped with a 1.25-m wide “Shared Experience Display” (SED) screen across the width of the front windshield with gesture control capabilities, as well as a “touch wheel” – a steering wheel with a screen at the center for easy access to functions. The model will be offered in 300-km or 500-km range versions eventually capable of Level 5 autonomous driving.
The first running prototype of the SUV will make its world premiere at CES 2018 on January 7 in Las Vegas and go into production by the end of 2019. A sedan and an MPV based on the same platform are expected to follow in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Breitfeld stressed that the transformation of mobility is global, so FMC wanted to create BYTON as a global brand right from the beginning, utilizing a global footprint that leverages a diversity of talents and different cultural backgrounds. Design and engineering is being conducted in Munich, Germany, where it makes use of the excellence of German premium auto makers. A platform design has already been completed as well as detailed technology specification of the first vehicle. It is running at full speed to develop its first prototype. The global R&D and software lab in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley, is devoted to the development of revolutionary UI/UX and autonomous driving technologies. The office in Beijing takes care of external affairs, the Hong Kong office is its window to the capital market, while sales & marketing will be based in Shanghai.
For now, FMC will be eagerly waiting for that coveted new energy vehicle production license as Dr. Kirchert, Breitfeld and their team try to break boundaries with BYTON.