Thirty prototypes of the M-Byte are on the road in China, and that number is expected to reach 100 by the end of the year. Some portion of those vehicles will be shipped to the United States, where Byton's partner on autonomous technology, Aurora Innovation, will outfit the vehicles with self-driving systems for testing.
It's too early to say when that Level 4 automated system — one in which no human supervision or intervention is required — will be ready. But when the M-Byte launches next year, customers will have the option to purchase a Level 3 autonomous system, one that's capable of claiming control at least some of the time, with the possibility a human will be asked to retake control. Pricing on that system has not been finalized, but it will be an optional feature.
While selling vehicles to customers is Byton's initial business plan, Breitfeld says that's essentially a short-term plan until its vehicles can launch on shared networks that allow customers to carry a personal profile with them from car to car, whether it's one that's personally owned, part of a ride-hailing network or one that's rented at an airport.
Cars will use facial-recognition software to identify riders, and let them keep a profile in the cloud with their preferences.
"Our business model is not built on selling cars," he said. "We'll start with that at the beginning, but that's not a sexy business model. Margins are down and maybe going lower. … The real business is in using the car as a platform, and using the car to create a sales channel to sell digital content."