Concrete joints, cracks, bumps: The streets in the industrial area of Santa Clara do not match the brand-new glass palaces of the Silicon Valley technology companies.
Damian Harty is not deterred by that. The chassis boss of the Chinese automobile start-up Byton bangs in the SUV model M-Byte on the Burton Drive. Harty, his approximately 450 colleagues in California and once again so many employees in Nanjing (China) are just finishing up the perhaps most promising electric car from China.
13 picturesByton M-Byte: Challenge to Mercedes and Audi
The car has just been presented at the IAA, and in the coming year it should be orderable in Europe. He should afford up to 476 hp, the range is thanks to a 95 kWh battery in the most expensive variant over 500 kilometers. With these key data, the M-byte also competes against cars like the Audi e-tron or the Mercedes EQ-C.
In the race for speed Byton is out
Although Hartys prototype was made by hand, and sometimes the consoles fall apart, the bumps do not arrive at the occupants. Buttery soft, the M-byte bounces off the bumps, swings a little bit and rolls unchecked on.
"Liquid Road", Harty calls this driving experience and thus distances himself from Tesla and Co. The could have been tempted by the acceleration values of a Porsche to a similarly tight vote, says his chief, Chief Development Officer David Twohig.
Of course, the M-byte has a huge punch when you pass the accelerator pedal. Do the engines balance the chunks with more than 700 Nm from the first second? But even if Twohing does not want to reveal any further data, he makes it clear that he does not want to participate in the race for the fastest battery car, but at the top speed he voluntarily puts it back.
Giant Cinemascope screen
The 200 km / h of an Audi e-tron should not be expected. "A Stromer is not a sports car," especially not if he has an SUV silhouette and weighs more than two tons, says Twohig. Why also, if most customers chauffeur the car later only in the rush hour through Shanghai or Beijing and later through Stuttgart or Paris? "Driving dynamics is not exactly there in the first place," says the development board to consider and instead calls peace and serenity as a goal.
The space fits this philosophy - at least in the first row. There you almost lose yourself behind the huge Cinemascope screen, which spans the width of the vehicle. In no other car you can see the map bigger, there is more entertainment, nowhere else does the passenger feel less excluded than in the M-byte.
Such living comfort is a trend among Chinese manufacturers. So scores competitor Nio in his models ES8 and ES6 with a lounge chair for the passenger including footrest and handbag storage compartment.
For big people a bit uncomfortable
The backbenchers are in the M-byte, however, suspended from the digital fireworks. There is no own screen for them. In addition, the M-Byte in the second row offers only average space, despite its almost five meters in length. For tall people, it gets uncomfortable on the head.
Despite this shortcoming, the car is quite promising - it looks a bit different for Byton as a company. The shooting star from China, who had his first public appearance 18 months ago at the CES in Las Vegas and was immediately celebrated as a Tesla hunter, has stumbled.
The charismatic CEO Carsten Breitfeld has meanwhile quit the service and has now come across the equally troubled competitor Faraday Future. Breitfeld had developed the i8 at BMW and then staged as a dropout from the traditional PS circus.
Pressure on western markets
If one believes Ganlu Feng from the Chinese market observer EFS, Byton's financing is also on shaky ground. In the first three rounds of financing, the company had collected much less money than its competitors Nio, Xiaopeng and World Champions.
"Since Breitfeld's departure, I can no longer see Byton with this incredibly wide chest," says analyst Jan Burgard of strategy consultant Berylls in Munich. That the boss has obviously taken senior developers, also help not exactly. Although the limited funds Byton would force according to Burgard's assessment to initially focus on the home market. But for psychological reasons Daniel Kirchert, Breitfeld's ex-partner and now successor in the executive chair, will also put pressure on Western markets.
However, Burgard admits that the M-byte makes a solid impression. If he starts as planned for 45,000 euros (but net), he was a challenge to Mercedes or Audi. "Slowly and bit by bit" he could find his place in Europe.
"Smartphone on wheels"
At the flying visit to Santa Clara, there is no sign of a crisis at the start-up at first sight. The open-plan offices are full on this Friday afternoon, but there is no fixed working hours at Byton. The lady at the reception juggles with several phones, technology chief Twohig looks up, and Harty unwinds on the prototype one kilometer after another.
However, among the lines in Silicon Valley is to hear out, not all of them were always in Byton's leadership. "Even a smartphone has to be able to drive if it has wheels," says Twohig. Breitfeld once staged the car as a "smartphone on wheels", hence all the gimmicks: face recognition instead of keys, a touch screen in the steering wheel, a tablet between the seats and, above all, the extra-wide cockpit screen.
Twohig attaches more importance to the tuning and the soft driving feeling. The Irishman is used to difficult or hopeless cases and now has to develop the Byton into a car by not only enjoying sitting, but also driving. At Renault he has put a fascinating sports car, the Alpine, on the wheels. If he succeeds in a similar coup at Byton, it will be really hard for e-tron and Co.