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Companies

Fast-growing Byton ready to mass-produce premium EVs in China

At CES 2019, BMW-alumni founders tout progress despite trade tensions

Byton, run by two former BMW executives, calls its cars "next-generation smart devices." (Photo courtesy of Byton)

LAS VEGAS, U.S. -- China-backed Byton is on track to begin mass production of semi-autonomous electric vehicles by year-end as planned, despite rising concerns that the Sino-American trade war could hamper Beijing's push to develop cutting-edge technologies.

The company said at the CES consumer electronics show here this week its first running prototypes of the M-Byte sport utility vehicle rolled off the line last August. More than 100 have been built since. And once construction of its factory in Nanjing is complete in May, Byton is expected to reach an output capacity of up to 300,000 units a year.

"I'm very happy to announce that we are making great progress in staying on track as we move toward the start of production of the Byton M-Byte at the end of this year," co-founder and President Daniel Kirchert, a former BMW executive in charge of the German automaker's sales in China, said at a press event Sunday.

The company has already received more than 70,000 preorders, half of them from buyers outside China. With a $45,000 price tag, the Chinese premium-electric-car startup views itself as a challenger to Tesla, though the trade war could cast a shadow over its expansion into the U.S.

Backed by the Nanjing government as well as Chinese carmaker FAW, the 2-year-old startup is among the fastest-growing electric-car makers in China. It is run by Kirchert and Chairman and CEO Carsten Breitfeld, a former BMG Group vice president.

If all goes as planned, Byton's cars will first be sold there in late 2019 and then hit North American and European streets by mid-2020. The company has teamed up with Amazon.com and will integrate the U.S. company's Alexa voice assistant into its battery-powered SUV. At home, Byton has also joined hands with Chinese internet search engine giant Baidu.

Byton is also among the few Chinese companies keeping a high profile this year at the CES, once jokingly called the China Electronics Show. The event drew 20% fewer exhibitors from the country this year after December's arrest of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada and persistent trade frictions between Beijing and Washington scared Chinese companies away.

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