The CES event focused primarily on the digital technology going into the new M-byte, an extensive array of features that the company has dubbed "Byton Life," something meant to "transform those four wheels into the next-generation smart device." Breitfeld declared. "M-byte could become the most important digital device in your life."
The system relies on the latest in digital microprocessing technology operating both artificial intelligence and machine learning software, added Daniel Kirchert, Byton's co-founder and president. And it will link to the world through the new 5G wireless network just starting to go into place in the U.S., China and Europe.
Byton has also partnered with Amazon and will integrate the U.S. firm's Alexa voice assistant into the battery-SUV. That will allow passengers to plug in destinations, change audio sources and remotely operate smart home systems – turning on their lights at home while driving home at the end of the day, for example. But Byton hopes to also sell videos, games and other content that can be displayed on screens throughout the vehicle, including twin LCD displays for rear seat occupants.
"Our business model will not just be about selling cars, but using the car as a platform," Breitfeld said in an impromptu interview following the CES news conference. "In the future, we will make more money selling digital content and shared mobility."
The CEO believes in one of the big transformations many experts anticipate will sweep through the transportation industry over the next decade. A study released a year ago by the Boston Consulting Group forecast 30 percent of the miles that Americans clock on the road each year will be in self-driving vehicles operated by ride-sharing services. Breitfeld said he thinks that could come closer to 50 percent.
Byton, he added, plans to set up its own ride- and vehicle-sharing operations, rather than just selling its vehicles to existing services like Uber, Lyft or Waymo. The latter, a spin-off of Google, last month launched the world's first commercial self-driving ride-sharing program in Phoenix. Byton isn't the only automaker exploring that option. General Motors has said it plans to launch a similar service this year through its Cruise Automation subsidiary. Volkswagen and Ford have outlined similar plans.
Backed by the Nanjing government, as well as First Auto Works, or FAW, one of China's largest homegrown auto companies, Byton is one of a growing list of Chinese-funded electric vehicle start-ups. It's finalizing work on a plant in Nanjing that will be able to produce up to around 300,000 vehicles annually, Breitfeld told his CES audience. He subsequently told CNBC that the plan is to sell about half of those vehicles in China, and about a third, or 100,000 annually, in the U.S. The rest will go to Europe.