EV startup Byton furloughs half of its 450-person staff in the US

China-based electric car startup Byton has furloughed about half of the 450 employees who work at its North American headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., putting the release date of the automaker’s upcoming M-Byte vehicle into question.

Byton told TechCrunch the furloughs were the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intention is to bring these furloughed employees back, the company said without providing a timeline.

“Given the impact of the pandemic on the global economy and the auto industries we, like several companies, have had to take action to face the challenge,” a Byton spokesperson wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “The furloughs have affected all areas within Byton’s U.S. operations. Employees in China have not been furloughed.”

Electrek was the first to report the furloughs.

The furloughs come as the company is preparing to bring its M-Byte electric SUV into volume production later this year. The vehicle, perhaps best known for its massive 48-inch wraparound digital dashboard, will be produced at Byton’s factory in Nanjing, China. The M-Byte will be sold in China, the U.S. and Europe.

Byton previously said sales 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. However, the COVID-19 pandemic — and the ensuing furloughs and cuts — could delay Byton’s timeline.

Byton told TechCrunch it is evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on production of the M-Byte. Byton’s China factory reopened in mid-February and is now nearly fully operational, according to the company. 

Byton has raised about $820 million from investors that include the company’s founding team, FAW Group, Nanjing Qiningfeng New Energy Industry Investment Fund and CATL.

The startup has been working to close a Series C round of fundraising for months now. The company told TechCrunch it is in the “final stage” of the round, which will include investors FAW Group and the industrial investment fund of Nanjing municipal government, Myoung Shin Co. of South Korea, MS Autotech and Japanese enterprise Marubeni Corporation.