What does this mean for the future of BYTON?

It was nearly three years ago to the day when we reported that Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, father of the BMW i8 was leaving BMW, along with a couple other top BMW i managers, to form a new electric car company based in China. That company was later identified as BYTON.

We now learn that Breitfeld has left BYTON, and has joined another Chinese-based electric vehicle startup called Iconiq Motors. There were hints that the relationship between Breitfeld and BYTON was beginning to strain, and in January Breitfeld was replaced as CEO by co-founder Daniel Kirchert, while Breitfeld was given the position of Chairman.

What does this mean for BYTON? We're not quite sure. BYTON representatives say they are still on track for a late 2019 release of their first vehicle, the M-Byte SUV. It will initially only be available in China, with North American and European deliveries beginning sometime in late 2020.

We regret that Dr. Carsten Breitfeld has chosen to pursue his career outside BYTON. Carsten helped build a strong BYTON brand and bring in the right people to take our startup to the next level. Now we are on track with product design, R&D, and plant construction for our main goal to achieve production of the BYTON M-Byte. Thanks to our team and all employees we’re well on track and looking forward to delivering this year to customers in China, followed by the US and Europe in 2020. – Dr. Daniel Kirchert, CEO and co-founder of BYTON.

I've known Breitfeld from his BMW days, and have interviewed him many times. I remember the first time I interviewed him as BYTON's CEO. I asked if he was crazy to leave his high position in BMW for a Chinese startup that had no guarantee of ever actually selling even one car. His answer was interesting. He said he wanted to create the future. He said BMW gave him the authority to do whatever he wanted to with the i8, to create something BMW had never done before, and he really enjoyed the entire development process. But then, after they made the i3 & i8, BMW pulled back on innovation in his eyes. Basically, they decided to slow-walk electrification, and he wanted to work on electric cars from that point on.

Better days: BYTON's co-founders Daniel Kirchert and Carston Breitfeld answering questions at CES in 2018.

So, he said that gave him the desire to look elsewhere, and to find an opportunity where he was given authority to do unconventional things, and create the future of mobility. Maybe he was beginning to feel that at BYTON. Perhaps the excitement was creating a new company, bringing two totally new concepts to life, and now that BYTON is focused on the more mundane tasks like building factories, and figuring out manufacturing processes, Breitfeld decided to move onto another startup that was just beginning. Or maybe BYTON decided they didn't need his services anymore, so they took away his CEO position to force him to leave. We just don't know at this point.

What we do know is that BYTON is saying that it's business as usual, and that executives leave companies for other opportunities all the time. Below is BYTON's official statement on Breitfeld's departure:

We regret that Dr. Carsten Breitfeld has chosen to pursue his career outside of BYTON; however, in January 2019, it was resolved by BYTON's board that Dr. Breitfeld would cease to carry out the role of CEO and that Dr. Daniel Kirchert would take the role of CEO going forward. BYTON, with strong support from its shareholders, the Jiangsu Province, and the Nanjing Municipal Government, remains on track with its production design, R&D, and plant construction in a bid to achieve its primary business objectives in 2019, specifically the on-time start-of-production (SOP) of its first vehicle, the all-electric M-Byte SUV.

BYTON's concept M-BYTE. The production version is set to be unveiled in June, at Asia CES.
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