At this year’s CES, Byton was the latest company to toss its hat into the automotive ring in the form of the Byton Concept, an SUV more smartphone than car.
Billed as a “smart device” several times during the presentation, the concept is an all-electric vehicle with the shape and dimensions of a crossover that’s less about the driving and more about making use of the time spent en route. On the outside, the electric SUV stretches more than 15 feet and has a 9.6-foot wheelbase. The exterior is bereft of things like handles and even mirrors, opting for facial recognition in the B-pillar to allow for entry and rear-view cameras eyeing things in the rear.
That is if you’ll be doing any driving. Prepped with the hardware for level 3 advanced driver assistance systems, it’s got what it needs to switch to level 4 autonomy by way of a software update. While there is a driver’s seat with its own wheel and mounted touchscreen, the interior’s all about creating an enjoyable “digital space” for work or play. Adorning the button-free dashboard is a meter-long shared experience display where occupants can presumably do things like watch videos. The absence of a center console, plus the ability for the front seats to rotate 12 degrees inwards, drives home the fact that Byton is shooting to make the cabin more of a lounge than a traditional car experience.
Interactivity with the vehicle won’t be through buttons but through the aforementioned driver touchscreen, as well as two seat-mounted displays for rear entertainment. If any further interaction is needed, it’s through hand gestures that are said to be very intuitive. We didn’t see them in action, but we did see the hand shapes that the car will recognize, which appear to be five different shapes that range from a closed fist, to an open hand, to a single extended digit. Integrated Amazon Alexa will round out the input options.
A rear drive model will be kitted with a 71 Kwh battery pack that will have a 248 mile range, while the all-wheel drive model will have a 95 kwh battery pack, extending the range to 328 miles. Byton says either will charge up to 80 percent within 30 minutes, but it’s unclear as to what wattage will allow that.
Also unclear is any performance capabilities. The rear drive model will be powered by a single motor that churns out 200kW or 295 pound-feet of torque. The all-wheel drive model will have an additional motor that will help lay down 350kW or 523 lb-ft of torque, neither of which are unsubstantial.
Here’s the kicker: Byton claims the car will be available in 2019 in China and 2020 in the U.S., with a starting price of $45,000.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s acknowledge that we’ve heard a lot of these promises before. The talk of level 3 to level 4 autonomy and making your car a workspace is something we expect sooner from Volvo than anyone, for starters. The fact that concepts have been replacing mirrors with cameras has been a near 20 year tradition at this point, too. Facial recognition, driver profiles, and even heart rate monitoring sound more like features designed to make the car’s connection to smartphones more pronounced. That being said, if the China-based company can make it happen, it’s certainly a step toward normalizing the notion of a car being more of a mobile workspace than ever before. Like all who came before, we’ll watch Byton’s progress with optimism, but we won’t get our hopes up just yet.
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