Byton enlists ViacomCBS, AccuWeather, Xperi and more to take on Tesla’s in-car entertainment

Byton is starting to amass key partners, such as global media giant ViacomCBS, to bring video content as well as information and other services to the eye-popping 48-inch wraparound digital dashboard screen in its upcoming electric M-Byte SUV.

The China-based electric car startup is calling its dashboard screen the “Byton Stage,” and the plan to turn it  — along with several other displays — into an interactive experience that delivers everything from entertainment and navigation to health stats and even review PowerPoint slides is part of a bigger goal to compete against Tesla.

“In a world where Tesla has prominently taken its place during the past years, people are constantly telling me they are ready for an alternative option in choosing a new premium electric vehicle,” Byton CEO Daniel Kirchert said during a press conference Sunday ahead of CES in Las Vegas. “I believe Byton’s ready to be that alternative.”

Byton showed off a production version of the M-Byte on Sunday during a press conference ahead of CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. The M-Byte, which is expected to go into volume production later this year, will be priced a $45,000, Kirchert said.

The M-Byte, which will be built at Byton’s factory in Nanjing, will be launched in China, the U.S. and Europe within the coming 18 months, according to the company. Byton will begin in China in the second half of 2020, followed by the U.S. The vehicle will come to the first European markets in the first half of 2021.

Byton announced Sunday several partnerships to bring content into the vehicle, including ViacomCBS, Access, AccuWeather, Aiqudo, Cloud Car, Road.Travel and Xperi.

Each partnership is filling out that interactive content ecosystem. Access Twine is the platform that Byton will use to deliver the content to its “stage;” whole Cloud Car will handle the cloud-connected natural language recognition. Aiqudo’s Voice to Action platform enables customers to use voice commands and integrates with the mobile apps on their smartphones. Road.Travel lets users plan and book trips and Xperi will deliver digital HD Radio and DTS Connected Radio.

Some of that content, such as video from ViacomCBS, is meant to be viewed while the M-Byte is parked, following in the footsteps of Tesla, which has a number of games as well as video streaming in its vehicles.

When the vehicle is parked, users can hit “cinema mode” to view videos or “office mode” to review PowerPoint slides. And soon there will be more. Byton also announced it is launching an app developer program.

“Our aim is to make the Byton M-Byte a seamless part of your digital life and easy access to compelling video content will be integral to that experience,” Andreas Schaaf, the company’s chief customer officer said in a prepared statement.

Byton is also following other EV automakers, namely Tesla, as well as BMW, into the energy storage business. The company said Sunday it will develop stationary energy storage systems for residential and commercial applications based on the M-Byte battery technology. These energy storage systems will be manufactured in the Nanjing battery assembly line, Kirchert said.

The announcements follow a tumultuous year for Byton. Carsten Breitfeld, the former BMW executive and Byton co-founder who had been the CEO and then chairman, left in April. Breitfeld is now CEO of EV startup Faraday Future. Byton also hit some financial headwinds as it tried to raise another $500 million in capital.

Those financial challenges appear to be solved — for now. Kirchert said Sunday that it has secured two new investors for its Series C round: Myoung Shin Co., a subsidiary of South Korean auto parts maker MS Autotech, and Marubeni, the Japanese investment conglomerate.
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