Chinese-owned EV start-up Byton is nothing if not ambitious. The company is planning an aggressive global rollout for its mByte SUV that will begin in China this year and, if all goes according to plan, see it enter both the Europe and the U.S. in 2021.
There could be some hiccups, officials acknowledged during a media conference call, notably the expanding coronavirus epidemic that has spread across the planet but has its epicenter in China.
“We can’t dismiss the fact that there is an impact on our operations because of the coronavirus,” said Byton Chief Commercial Officer Andreas Schaaf. But he quickly stressed his hope that the impact will be modest, adding that a 2020 debut of the mByte “is still our target.”
What the Chinese market will look like later this year is anybody’s guess, sales tumbling a full 92% during the first half of February. But Byton is hoping to balance things, both now and in the long run, with a global presence.
On Tuesday, the automaker announced its plans for entering the European market. That will see it initially target six national markets: Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, Netherlands and Sweden. Another six markets will be added, Schaaf said, in a “second wave.”
Unlike many competitors, Byton has selected just one retail partner for each of those markets, such as Hedin Automotive in Norway, Schaaf suggesting that this approach will make those retailers “feel very responsible for the success of Byton.”
As much as “20 to 30% of the start-ups European sales are expected to be generated online, Byton is forecasting. It will have a relatively limited number of actual storefronts, and each will be standalone and exclusive.
By contrast, it consciously chose to share service and repair centers, many of them now representing Audi, BMW and Volkswagen brands, in order to make sure customers don’t have to jump through hoops, as has been the case with some other EV start-ups.
The plan is to offer a high-line “experience” that will include pick up and drop off, so Byton customers won’t have to take time off to get service or repairs.
Byton is also working on plans to make it easy for owners to charge their vehicles. Here, it is partnering with Digital Charging Solutions, a German energy provider that will get owners access to what Schaaf claimed are 150,000 charging points across Europe.
The automaker’s U.S. plans have led it to form similar ties with Electrify America, the charging company set up with $2 billion in funding as part of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions settlement. American customers will get unlimited 30-minute charging sessions using Electrify America’s quick-chargers, and 1-hour sessions on slower Level 2 chargers.
The basic mByte will start for about 45,000 euros on the Continent. As in other markets, it will be offered with several different possible configurations impacting range and power, as well as onboard features.
According to Schaaf, Byton has so far received about 65,000 advance reservations, about 25,000 of those in Europe.
It will begin taking actual orders on the Continent during the second half of this year. The first “Byton Place” store will open in Zurich, Switzerland during the second quarter of 2021. Others will follow in cities where demand for EVs is expected to be strong, including Oslo, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris.