SANTA CLARA, California — Silicon Valley has become the de facto launch pad for Chinese startups hoping to sell smart, electric vehicles in the U.S.
The latest addition to the high-tech neighborhood is Byton. Headquartered in Nanjing, China, the brand born out of Future Mobility opened its North American headquarters here on Dec. 1, and will unveil its first vehicle at CES. With a mission to redesign the cockpit as a personalized digital experience for human and autonomous driving, Byton is building up a manufacturing base in China and forming partnerships with Tier 1 suppliers to begin sales of its first electric SUV by the end of 2019.
"You have to focus at the beginning. You cannot do everything at the same time," Byton CEO Carsten Breitfeld told Automotive News. "Many people completely underestimate what it means to engineer and produce and industrialize a car."
Breitfeld, a 20-year BMW veteran and German native who led the development of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, founded Byton in 2016 with Daniel Kirchert, a fellow German who led Infiniti's China operations and now is the startup's president. The two seek to merge low-cost Chinese manufacturing, German engineering and Silicon Valley tech expertise into what the company describes as an affordable "iPhone on wheels."
Breitfeld and Kirchert raised $240 million in a first round of funding from four Chinese investors, as well as initial investments from Byton's management team. The company is in its second round of funding, which it hopes to raise from U.S.-based and other global investors.