Byton, the Chinese electric-vehicle startup founded by former BMW AG executives, is forging ahead with plans to enter the US market even as the trade war casts a cloud of unpredictability for the push.
The company plans to begin production of its $45,000 electric SUV in 2019 and still targets a US entry in 2020, CEO Carsten Breitfeld said. Overseas markets will account for half of Byton’s projected global annual sales of 300,000 vehicles four years after production kicks off, led by the US, he said.
The US is crucial to Byton’s international expansion as Europe has more direct competitors in BMW, Audi and Mercedes, Breitfeld said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
Byton has time to adapt to the trade dispute — while the spat between the two biggest auto markets began in earnest on July 7, the company’s planned market entry to the US is still two years away.
“Tariffs will not have a too big implication on it, because as a company you have to and will adapt to the economic boundary conditions you find,” Breitfeld said. “This will be solved one way or the other.”
For now, Byton is focussed on getting its plant running in Nanjing, China, building its first product there and shipping it, said Breitfeld, who is also the startup’s co-founder.
The company plans to decide by March 2019 whether to open a factory in the US that would assemble electric cars using China-imported components, he said.
Chinese carmakers are preparing to sell into developed markets like North America and Europe as the country aspires to wedge itself among the big three of the global car industry — the US, Germany and Japan. At least four Chinese carmakers and three Chinese-owned startups — SF Motors Inc., NIO and Byton — plan to start car sales in the US within the next couple of years.
At the same time, Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co. is building electric buses in California; Baidu Inc. is partnering with Microsoft Corp., TomTom NV and Nvidia Corp. on a self-
driving platform; and Beijing-based TuSimple Inc. is testing autonomous-driving big rigs in Arizona.
Byton received $500 million in a recent round of fundraising, with the state-owned China FAW Group Corp. and battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. among its investors.