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Chinese develop a car that you can unlock with your face

Facial recognition, autodriving, innovative “3-minute battery swap” concept and affordability add competitive challenge to premium EV maker Tesla Motors

The market for viable and affordable electric vehicles (EVs) has just been kicked up a notch.  With cars boasting features such as facial recognition to unlock doors, a 49″ screen across the entire dashboard, autonomous driving and quick-battery changes, several Chinese automakers are in competition for the burgeoning electric car market, and they are giving the market new choice and real competition.

Byton is a Nanjing-based company started by former BMW AG executives.  On Sunday, January 7th, they became the first Chinese automaker to do a large-scale unveiling at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  Xpeng Motors is another company expected to unveil a production car very soon. These two companies follow entries made by NIO, Tencent Holdings, and WM Motor Technology Company.

Chinese Byton concept design

China is a very important market for the electric vehicle.  Pollution problems, exacerbated by a rapidly increasing number of gasoline-powered automobiles in the country, as well as the concurrently increasing demand for oil, have triggered a need for development of clean-powered transportation.  To that end, generous government subsidization have helped spawn dozens of clean-energy startups.

China is also the world’s largest market for vehicles, since it is the single most highly populated nation in the world, and since it also boasts the fastest rate of infrastructure development as regards transportation in the world. In 2015, China surpassed the United States in EV sales, and in 2017 the nation saw the sales of over 700,000 units.  In 2018, this number is expected to reach one million.

Graph showing grown of Electric Vehicles in China between 2012 and 2016.

All this creates an extremely agile and competitive market opportunity.  Although Chinese companies currently lead the pack in terms of EV sales in the country, foreign makes are also trying to get in, Toyota, Volkswagen and of course, Tesla Motors among them.

Byton, formerly known as Future Mobility Corporation, plans to offer its first model for sale next year (2019) starting at US $45,000. This is an SUV design, but it is targeted at the market niche held by the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 sedan. At $45,000, the Byton model places it comfortably within the price range held by many conventional SUV manufacturers.

Futher, Byton is in negotiations with Tesla to share intercompatibility with Tesla’s charging network.  Standardization is a logical step in this market, and it is good to see this step already taken.  The Byton also promises a number of very tech heavy features, such as eventual autonomous driving.

NIO, set up by William Li in 2014 and a group of Internet entrepreneurs, began selling its first model in December 2017.  NIO offers autonomous driving, a 49″ touchscreen running across the entire front panel of the car, and a unique “battery swap” innovation that can change the car’s depleted battery for a charged one in only three minutes. Not only is this a vehicle that helps one get from point A to point B, it offers a tantalizing glimpse into the future of personal transportation.

The future is here.

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