Investors might still trust Byton, a Chinese electric vehicle startup that has a valuation of $4 billion. But one of its founders might have lost faith.
Carsten Breitfeld, a former BMW veteran who co-founded Byton in 2016, is leaving the company, German Manager Magazine reported last week (link in German, paywall). Byton denied the report at the time. Yet today, at the Shanghai Auto show, Breitfeld said he joined another car company (link in Chinese), a little-known Chinese startup Iconiq.
The change comes shortly after a leadership reshuffle of Byton when Breitfeld handed over the CEO title to co-founder Daniel Kitchener, leaving Breitfeld as chairman.
Byton, based in China’s eastern city Nanjing, is still looking to deliver any car to the market despite having demonstrated their models twice at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show since 2018. The company announced it would roll out its first mass production model closer to mid-2019 and would start production by the end of this year. That would put Byton under huge pressure, as it faced increasing competitions from other EV makers while China’s government is yanking away the industry’s safety—the country cut its average subsidies for electric vehicles nearly in half this year compared to last year, while its total auto market has been plunging for the 10th straight month. It’s the first such slowdown since 1990.
Byton didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement, it told Cheyun, a Chinese auto blog, the company’s board had in January decided to terminate (link in Chinese) Breitfeld’s role as the company’s CEO but didn’t say what happened to the chairman title.
“We are deeply sorry that Dr. Breitfeld is with another company now … We will ensure to achieve mass production of high-quality M-Byte, the first pure electric SUV within this year, the adjustment will bring more positive influence to the company’s management structure. It will help further stable developments for the company in the next stage,” read the statement.
The company also said it’s hoping to raise another $500 million through an investing round.
Breitfeld said at the auto show (link in Chinese) that he and the three-year-old, Tianjin-based, Iconiq have a “shared dream, vision, and a clear strategy… it’s the passion of pursuing the dream that makes me want to join Iconiq. I have faith in leading the team to realize that.”