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A Q&A with BYTON's Dr. Carsten Breitfield


BYTON CEO & Co-founder Dr. Carsten Breitfeld

Cars are the next-generation smart device. Everything you can do on your smartphone will soon be possible in your car, controlled by touch, gesture and voice. The global launch of a new Chinese electric
vehicle brand, BYTON, grabbed headlines at CES 2018 with its concept SUV.

Formerly known as Future Mobility, the startup’s nearly production-ready “smart intuitive vehicle,” is an all-electric SUV with a futuristic-looking dashboard centered on smart mobility. Its key interface
feature is the 49-by-10-inch “coastto-coast” screen that includes voice recognition, hand gesture detection and a touch-screen steering wheel. The car also uses facial recognition to identify its passengers and Amazon’s Alexa to provide shared digital experiences for all in the car.

Machine learning allows the interface to make personalized suggestions for users and also communicate data to other BYTON vehicles on the road. The vehicle will include 5G connectivity and drive 400 kilometers on one charge. BYTON seeks to build affordable intelligent EVs and is partnering with Robert Bosch GmbH and France’s Faurecia to make this happen.

The company was established in 2016 by CEO and Co-founder Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, an expert in electric mobility with a PhD in mechanical engineering. He spent the past 20 years at BMW in executive roles, leading a range of engineering divisions within chassis development, powertrain development and corporate
strategy, and working as a leading engineer for BMW’s i8 electric car. Fellow Co-founder and President Dr. Daniel Kirchert previously was in charge of marketing at BMW’s venture in China. And he was president of Infinite's China venture after then.

The brand is rolling out in China first because the government is prioritizing infrastructure for autonomous and electric vehicles. BYTON has its global headquarters and manufacturing base in Nanjing. The R&D center responsible for the design of prototype models is based in Munich, Germany. Its North American headquarters are in Silicon Valley, the world’s tech center. The key focus of the office is developing cutting-edge technologies in intelligent car user experience and autonomous driving, as well as developing and overseeing operations in the North American market. The company is building its plant in Nanjing, China, with its first mass production model expected for sale in 2019 and two other car launches expected by 2022. Dr. Breitfeld spoke with i3 about the company’s plans at CES Asia and beyond.


What differentiates BYTON from other EV startups?

First, BYTON is a global company with roots in China with the vision to build truly premium, connected,
electric vehicles for future mobility. Our headquarters and plant are based in Nanjing. The R&D center responsible for the design of the prototype and concept models is based in Munich, Germany. And our North American headquarters is in Silicon Valley, focusing on developing cutting-edge technologies for intelligent car experiences and autonomous driving, as well as developing and overseeing operations in the North American market. Our target is to leverage global resources to build a premium brand from China, known by the world.

Second, we have perhaps the best team, which combines premium cars manufacturing experience with innovative internet thinking. Key team members include those from successful carmakers BMW and Tesla, as well as high tech companies like Google and Apple.

Last but not least, we are not building another electric vehicle, but the nextgeneration smart device on four wheels. For the past century, the car industry has been pursuing the power of speed. But we believe that smartness will prevail over speed, and data power will replace horsepower. So we equip a new interface to the car and with seamless connectivity technology, we want to enable people to continue their lives when stuck in traffic to provide people their own time to be on the move.
 

When will EVs outnumber ICEs?

Some researchers estimate that the EV sales penetration in Europe, the U.S. and China will reach 50 percent sometime between 2035 and 2040. It’s hard to say an exact timeframe, but the trend of EVs gaining increasing momentum is rather clear.

Many countries have set national priorities to develop EVs. Some even set the timetable to ban fossil fuel vehicles. The Chinese government, for example, has been highly supportive in the EV industry and set a goal to have five million battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars on the road by 2020.

The major players in the industry are being electrified. Premium carmakers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are making  strategic transformations in electrification and announced ambitious goals to turn their
entire product portfolio into new energy vehicles. At the same time, a lot of new companies have made aggressive forays into this segment both in the U.S. and in China. A lot of new EV brands have also emerged.

On the consumer end, more people tend to choose EVs as the range and infrastructure are improved and the price is lowered. 
 

How is BYTON using artificial intelligence (AI)?

AI is embodied in many of BYTON’s innovations. First, AI enables BYTON’s product to adopt an innovative car interface and new ways of human-car interaction – like facial recognition, voice control and gesture control – which will significantly change people’s in-car experience. Cars will be more than a transportation tool, they will become smart devices.

Second, AI is also empowering the development of shared mobility and smart transportation, creating new business opportunities and reshaping future mobility. BYTON certainly will tap into the mobility service field in cooperation with potential partners.

Third, at BYTON, we are also exploring the deployment of autonomous driving, which is billed as the ultimate scenario of AI plus cars. The computer of autonomous cars will eventually be able to simulate human drivers in terms of processing information collected by the sensors (radars, cameras and LIDAR) and making decisions.
 

What functions will the gigantic screen on your concept car enable?

BYTON is aiming to create a next generation smart device for the era of autonomous driving and shared mobility. To realize it, we need an innovative hardware solution: the coast-to-coast Shared Experience Display (SED).

It is 1.25 meters long, 0.25 meters tall. Replacing the traditional center console of physical buttons, the display can be controlled via gestures, voice and the Driver Tablet on the steering wheel. With the SED, the driver can share the content on the screen with the co-driver and passengers in back seats to connect all the passengers in the car like in a shared living room.

The SED can be divided into three zones and show different content at the same time. The one in front of the driver shows pictures of the rear cameras and information about speed, battery power, etc. The middle one is used for the main menu, the navigation map or phone contacts. The right one is for the co-pilot seat and can be used mainly for entertainment and other applications as well. 

We have a digital cloud platform, BYTON Life, to support the content to be displayed on the SED. It enables seamless connectivity between the car and other smart device to sync your data on the SED. BYTON Life will also have AI and advanced machine learning skills, so it will be getting smarter with each interaction. It will have the ability to analyze data from your calendar, location, favorites and apps, and generate purposeful and personal advice of next best actions, just like your personal assistant.


What is your plan for autonomous driving?

At BYTON, we always put safety as the priority, so we will take a very cautious and gradual approach in applying autonomous driving technologies to ensure safety. We have been seeking cooperation with mature partners globally. Now we are working with Bosch on Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities on the production model in 2019. We have partnered with Aurora, a leading self-driving technology company,
to explore Level 4 and Level 5 technologies, which will allow BYTON to become one of the very first carmakers to apply Level 4 autonomous driving to series production cars.
 

Will your approach be different for the U.S. market versus China and the rest of the world?

We have a common, global platform for models to be sold in the U.S. and China. Our distinctive hardware – including the Shared Experience Display and Driver Tablet equipped on all products – is the same. Our sales strategy will also be consistent in the global market. Instead of traditional dealerships, we will adopt a direct sales model and combine online sales with offline stores to directly reach consumers and build a close bond with them. In regard to those areas with highly localized characteristics and customer preferences, we certainly adopt different approaches to better meet local requirements. For example, we will work on customized mobility solutions with local partners who know better about the local mobility environment. And we will collaborate with local third-party app developers to provide tailor-made content for our BYTON Life platform to stay closer to our users in both the U.S. and China.
 

What can we expect from BYTON at CES 2019?

We achieved an unprecedented success at CES 2018 and attracted great attention from all over the world. At the upcoming CES Asia, we will unveil our JOB 2 concept car. It’s positioned as a premium mid-sized sedan. As an innovation-driven technology startup, we chose CES to launch our products because it is an iconic event representing the cutting-edge technology in consumer electronics. And it highly coincides with BYTON’s vision to build a next generation smart device for the era of autonomous driving and shared mobility. Therefore, we will continue to leverage the high-quality platform to create more anticipated and exciting moments for the upcoming CES.

Cindy Loffler Stevens

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