Byton, the ambitious Chinese electric car startup has big ideas, not least of which is the scarily sizeable digital dashboard that takes centre stage in its M-Byte Concept. This battery-powered SUV was first unveiled at CES 2018 and a year later the car has been brought back to the tech show armed with a series of tweaks that will see it as less of a concept and more of a production reality. The company reckons it will have cars rolling off the production line at its plant in Nanjing for the Chinese market at the end of 2019.
From outside the Byton M-Byte is a nice looking car with some cool lines that suggest the SUV is rather more premium than you might expect. There are distant whiffs of Range Rover, while some of the styling touches, including the front and rear lights, make neat conversational pieces if nothing else. However, it’s the interior where the conversation really starts hotting up, beginning with that whopping 48-inch curved full-width digital dashboard.
The so-called Shared Experience Display (or SED) features three core areas, with the section immediately behind the steering wheel used for car-related information such as speed and battery range. The other sections feature maps and other driving aids, along with offering up in-car entertainment options. Byton also says that the screens are configured to offer a suite of touch gesture controls, such as simple one-finger swipes that will allow you to scroll quickly between menu items listed on the SED, as well as two-finger functionality for scrolling around maps or pinching to zoom in.
The other most notable interior feature is the Byton Driver Tablet that is slap-bang in the centre of the steering wheel. This seven-inch high-resolution touchscreen has evolved from earlier prototypes, however, with a section just below the screen that houses the airbag, while extra physical buttons mean that the new incarnation isn’t just a touchy-feely novelty. That’s good news for any owners who might not be up for the challenge of an expansive electronic dashboard and a tablet nestled between their fingertips. The dashboard, incidentally, has now been engineered to offer anti-reflective views and adjust automatically according to lighting conditions. It’s like a big old smartphone screen really, complete with its own one-stop-shop supporting app.
Elsewhere, more interior electronic gadgetry comes in the form of an eight-inch touch pad that has been added between the driver and the front passenger seats for the production model. This enables the front passenger to control the SED and enjoy the same interactive experience as the driver. Out back, there is a pair of screens mounted in the headrests of the front seats. Passengers sat in the rear of the M-Byte can enjoy entertainment on the go, while Byton also underlines the array of voice commands that can be used throughout the car. This, says the startup, will allow occupants to make use of a partnership with Amazon’s Alexa, while in its native China the system will feature Baidu Apollo. Oh, and for a final bit of icing on the cake there’ll be interior face recognition, which will allow owners to enjoy a more personalised driving experience via the cameras mounted on the centre of the dash. The company says that every owner will have their own ID via the so-called Byton Life digital ecosystem, which will, over time, build up a comprehensive profile of the driver using a combination of machine learning and AI.
Elsewhere, enthusiastic Byton staff were very keen to show off the front inward-rotating seats, which along with the flat floorpan has been designed to offer up a shared space for the occupants. The idea is a novel one that could add a whole new dimension to stops at the motorway services. The fit and finish of the interior looks to be pretty robust, too, considering the vehicles we’ve seen so far have, in essence, just been prototypes. What’s more, all of this doesn’t sound bad for an all-electric SUV that will have a starting price of just $45,000 when it arrives in the US.
So, can a car with such a voluminous electronic dashboard area actually make it on to our roads? Well, Byton reckons that the revised edition meets all safety and legislation requirements in every market that the M-Byte will be launched in. And, they say, its ‘smart factory’ has been developed in line with industry 4.0 production standards so the cars should pass quality control requirements – even though at present the M-Byte will only be initially available in China. Nevertheless, Byton claims that it will have a version ready for the American market by 2020.
Producing an M-Byte fit for American highways is going to be beefed up following a collaboration between Byton and Aurora, a US self-driving vehicle company. A number of Level 4 autonomous prototype vehicles are already being tested in America according to company president and Byton co-founder Daniel Kirchert. The company is boosting its penchant for recruiting skilled people too with experts from Tesla and Apple joining the likes of the ex-BMW and Nissan executives already on-board. Alongside its Nanjing plant, Byton also has an R&D facility in Silicon Valley and a design centre in Germany. Funding is also said to be in place to keep pushing forwards.
Byton also has another model in the pipeline with its similarly tech-flavoured K-Byte Concept saloon also being showcased at CES 2019. This is presumably likely to feature the same running gear arrangement as the M-Byte, which means a two-model powertrain combo with the entry-level edition having a 71 kWh battery paired with a 268 horsepower electric motor producing 295lb-ft of torque. That in turn will deliver 248 miles on one charge. There’ll be a more muscular model too, in the shape of an all-wheel drive 469 horsepower twin electric motor edition that boasts a range of up to 323 miles thanks to a bigger 95 kWh battery.
The company maintains that the K-Byte is also being developed with the aim of offering that increasingly talked about level 4 autonomy, which will doubtless help Byton keep hitting the headlines long after the curiosity value of that enormous digital dashboard in the M-Byte has died down. Byton also revealed that there’s a third model in the works for 2023 too.