Chinese EV startup Byton furloughs hundreds in the US

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Chinese EV startup Byton is furloughing more than 200 workers at its North American headquarters in Santa Clara, California due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is reevaluating its plans to launch its first vehicle later this year.

“Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy and the hit that the auto industry is taking, we like others have had to take measures to weather the hard times ahead,” the company said in a statement to Electrek, which first reported the news. “Our production timeline will no doubt be impacted. We are evaluating that impact.”

Byton closed its factory in Nanjing, China earlier this year as the country attempted to stop the spread of the virus, though it says work picked back up in February. The company, which is backed by state-owned automaker First Auto Works, has been planning to release an electric SUV called M-Byte at the end of this year in China (and in other markets next year) that features a screen that spans the entire dashboard.

The pandemic has affected EV startups of all sizes, though they’re each handling it in different ways. Byton is one of the first to resort to furloughs (though the electric bus division of Chinese conglomerate BYD also placed hundreds of workers on unpaid leave in California last week, as The Verge first reported). Faraday Future, which has had some employees on furlough dating back to late 2018 while it searches for funding, was just given a $9.1 million loan through the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Electric truck startup Workhorse also received a $1.1 million loan from that program.

Chinese EV startup Nio, which made three separate rounds of cuts to its US workforce last year, says it has not performed any new layoffs or furloughs during the pandemic, and that none are planned. In fact, the company recently rolled out a new version of its first electric SUV in China, after announcing a $1.4 billion investment in late February.

Well-funded EV startups like Lucid Motors and Rivian (which are backed by Saudi Arabia and Amazon, respectively) have not yet put anyone out of work and have instead spent the last few weeks keeping potential customers updated on the progress that’s being made during the pandemic. For Lucid Motors, that meant showing off new photos and footage of the factory it’s building in Casa Grande, Arizona. Rivian, meanwhile, recently shared how some of its 2,000 employees are putting the startup’s electric vehicles through their paces while working from home — though it has delayed the release of those two vehicles.

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