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iPhone Assembler Foxconn Signs Deal With EV Startup Byton to Build its M-Byte SUV

iPhone Assembler Foxconn Signs Deal With EV Startup Byton to Build its M-Byte SUV

Author: Eric Walz   

Foxconn Technology Group is best known as the contract manufacturer for computer giant Apple Inc. The electronics manufacturer has churned out tens of millions of iPhones and iPads for Apple since 2007. 

Taiwan-based Foxconn is also the single largest employer in mainland China with roughly 1.3 million employees. Now its looks as though the iPhone maker will add electric vehicles to the growing list of products it assembles.

Foxconn has signed a strategic cooperation deal with Chinese electric-vehicle startup Byton Ltd to mass produce the startup's first vehicle, the M-Byte SUV. Production is expected to start in the first quarter of 2022, Bloomberg reports.

Foxconn is already supplying parts to other major automakers, including Tesla.

Foxconn announced in October that it aims to provide components or services to around 10% of the world's electric vehicles (EVs) between 2025 and 2027. Foxconn Chairman Liu Young-way said the company is in talks with multiple car manufacturers for future cooperation.

As the auto industry shifts towards electrification, traditional vehicle mechanical systems are being replaced with computer-controlled electric powertrains, batteries, and next-generation control systems and sensors for autonomous driving. This new type of specialty manufacturing is leading to automakers developing partnerships with tech companies for the components for future electric vehicles.

Foxconn will supply Byton with its advanced manufacturing technology, operation management expertise and supply chain resources. The company is also in negotiations with other Chinese electric-car makers on potential collaborations, another person familiar said, who asked not to be identified since the details were not made public.

As part of the deal. Foxconn plans to invest around $200 million in the venture with Byton, a source familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. 

The deal represents a new lifeline for Byton, which has struggled to get its fully-electric M-Byte SUV into production over the past several years. 

Byton was once one of the highest-profile Chinese EV startups, along with rivals NIO Inc. and Xpeng Motors, both of which have launched U.S. IPOs. However, breaking into the world's biggest auto market as a Tesla competitor has proved to be a daunting task for Byton.

The company was co-founded in 2017 by Dr. Carsen Breitfeld, a former engineer who spent 20 years at BMW, including more than 10 years as BMW Group vice president. Breitfeld was the former head of BMW's i8 electric car program.

Two years ago, Byton completed a Series-B fundraising round of $500 million from multiple major investors that include Chinese automaker FAW Group, Tus-Holdings and EV battery maker CATL.

But Byton's troubles began to surface in April 2019. Sources at the time said that Byton was having difficulty expanding into the Chinese auto market, causing tensions inside the company, which led to Dr Breitfeld's departure.

Byton attracted attention around the world when it debuted its M-Byte concept SUV at CES in Las Vegas in Jan 2018. The futuristic electric vehicle included facial recognition, assistive driving technologies and hand gesture controls. 

The fully-electric M-Byte SUV also featured an instrument panel with a 48-inch widescreen display for both the driver and front seat passenger, as well as a second display mounted in the steering wheel. The massive display allows for various infotainment options. Byton called its design a "Shared Experience Display."

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The M-Byte SUV features Byton's 48-inch "Shared Experience Display", which runs the length of the dashboard.

In 2018, Byton announced Byton the opening of its global headquarters in Nanjing, China, an R&D center in Silicon Valley, as well as a design center in Munich, Germany.

The company followed up the M-Byte concept with a production version that was unveiled at CES last January. Byton hoped to bring its futuristic M-Byte SUV to the market sometime in 2020

However in June the company announced it was suspending its operations for six months, beginning on July 1, 2020. The shutdown, which was partially blamed on the pandemic and China's cooling auto market, has since been extended until next June. Although Byton is still accepting reservations on its website for the M-Byte.

Foxconn is considered to be the single most important production partner for Apple, which is reportedly developing a self-driving car of its own. 

Foxconn is also seeking to diversify its business as assembling Apple products accounts for nearly half its annual revenue. Making electric vehicles for Byton could be its next big opportunity.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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