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Chinese EV Startup BYTON to Suspend Operations for 6 Months, the Company's Future is Uncertain

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【Summary】Electric vehicle startup Byton, which hoped to bring its futuristic M-Byte SUV to the market by this year, announced that it is suspending its operations for the next 6 months, beginning on July 1. Byton is suspending operations to review its business operations amid China’s cooling auto market. However, sources inside and outside of the company said that the chances Byton will emerge from its self-imposed hiatus seems unlikely.

Eric Walz    Jun 30, 2020 1:00 PM PT
Chinese EV Startup BYTON to Suspend Operations for 6 Months, the Company's Future is Uncertain
The Byton M-Byte electric SUV

Boosted by generous government subsidies to build electric vehicles, a new crop of electric carmakers has emerged in China over the past few years. Among the most well known are Byton, Nio and Xpeng Motors. However, breaking into the world's biggest auto market and following in Tesla's lead has proved to be a daunting task for the young EV startups.

Automaker Byton, which hoped to bring its futuristic M-Byte SUV to the market by this year, announced that it is suspending its operations for the next 6 months, beginning on July 1.

The news was first reported by The Detroit Bureau. Byton spokesman Dave Buchko told the Detroit-based news outlet on Monday that virtually all of the company's employees around the world will be let go.

"The company is going to suspend operations on July 1 for six months," said Buchko. The board of directors and top management are looking to find a way to move the company forward."

Byton is suspending operations to review its business operations amid China's cooling auto market. However, sources inside and outside of the company said that the chances Byton will emerge from its self-imposed hiatus seems unlikely. 

Two years ago, Byton completed a Series-B fundraising round of $500 million from multiple major investors that include Chinese automaker FAW Group, Tus-Holdings and battery manufactuerer CATL. The funding round was used to fund progress in mass production, R&D and product development of the electric M-Byte SUV.

Byton attracted attention around the world after it first debuted its M-Byte concept at CES in Las Vegas in Jan 2018. The fully-electric SUV featured an instrument panel with a 48-inch widescreen display, giving the driver and passenger a wealth of vehicle information and infotainment options. Byton called it a "Shared Experience Display."

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The M-Byte's Shared Experience Display is a unique feature and included a steering wheel display .

The M-Byte also had other advanced features such as an intuitive access feature in the M-Byte, which uses face recognition technology to unlock the doors when a driver approaches. Other tech included a rearview camera which replaced the conventional glass rearview mirror. 

Byton teamed up with automotive supplier Bosch on powertrain, brake and driver assistance systems for the M-Byte.

The company followed up the M-Byte concept with a production version at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

In Aug 2018, Byton announced it was working with autonomous driving startup Aurora to outfit its vehicles with self-driving technology. Aurora was founded by Chris Urmson, the former head of Google's self-driving car program.

Also in 2018, Byton announced Byton the opening of its global headquarters in Nanjing, China, an R&D center in Silicon Valley, as well as a design center in Munich, Germany.

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Byton co-founders Dr. Carsten Breitfeld (L) and Dr. Daniel Kirchert present the M-Byte concept EV at CES 2018 in Las Vegas.

Byton recently completed its factory in China and was granted a license from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to begin vehicle production. Byton was even able to build a handful of M-Byte vehicles to gain its license. 

However, Byton's plans were derailed by the global coronavirus pandemic and the company was forced to suspend its operations along with the rest of China auto industry. With few buyers for its electric M-Byte, Byton's path forward proved difficult.

"Without a revenue stream, we just hit the wall," Buchko told The Detroit Bureau.

However, Byton's troubles began to surface in April 2019, when Chairman and Co-founder Dr. Carsten Breitfeld announced he was leaving the company. Sources said at the time that Byton was having difficulty finding its planned expansion in the Chinese market, causing tensions inside the company, which led to Dr Breitfeld's departure.

Dr. Breitfeld, who co-founded Byton in 2017, was a former engineer who spent 20 years at BMW, including more than 10 years as BMW Group vice president. He was the former head of the BMW i8 program.

In April, Byton confirmed it would furlough about half of the 450 employees at its U.S. operations. Now its appears they won't be coming back to work.


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