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Renault China boss is making super-premium EVs that monitor your health

There’s an ever-growing list of wearables that track people’s health, but what about a vehicle that monitors one’s blood pressure and heart rate with smart sensors and algorithms? That’s the vision of BeyonCa, a young super-premium electric vehicle startup founded by Weiming Soh, the Singaporean auto veteran who’s the current CEO of Renault China and helped bring Mercedes-Benz to China back in the 1990s.

The idea of tracking one’s health conditions inside a car perhaps sounds less wild if one considers how much time they spend driving. “Take Americans for example. They spend 70 billion hours a year driving cars, which makes 1 hour per day. That’s an enormous amount of time people spend in a car because of the spacious environment,” Shaoshan Liu, BeyonCa’s chief scientist and autonomous driving lead, who also founded the self-driving startup PerceptIn, said in an interview.

“We think it’s the best time to deliver this kind of [healthcare] services in the car,” he added. Still, I can’t help but question how many people want their luxury car to play the role of a family doctor.

But maybe there’s a market for BeyonCa’s targeted demographic of health-conscious, affluent consumers. While the startup won’t disclose its price range until its first model is ready to ship in a few years, Soh puts the company’s product in the same category as the Mercedes Benz S Class and BMW 7 Series, which generally have a starting price of around $100,000.

The startup finished its Series pre-A funding round in Q3 this year from investors including Dongfeng Motor, a Chinese state-owned automaker. When seeking investment, the firm was “at the same time open to both financial and investment partners that would provide more support,” said Soh.

EV as a service platform

Soh’s ambitions for smart vehicles extend beyond merely having AI voice assistants and autonomous driving capabilities. Software is “an important tool” for vehicles, but what eventually differentiates BeyonCa will be its “services”, said the founder.

Liu elaborated on the vision, explaining that the industry is entering the “third” stage of EV development.

“The first stage is electrification, such that you convert the car to be powered by electricity. Tesla is a pioneer in that. Then we enter the second stage of intelligence. Again Tesla is a pioneer, and then Chinese firms are catching up. Now we are entering the third stage, which I think is called the ecosystem, in which we provide different vertical services, very deep services. Health is one of these services.”

The chief scientist further compared the future of vehicles to smartphones today, arguing that smart cars will be able to offer a lot more than driving in the same way smartphones can now accomplish much more than their original purpose for calling.

BeyonCa’s super premium cars, which will be equipped with medical-grade sensors and radars, will detect the health conditions of the driver and passengers at all times using BeyonCa’s proprietary AI model. If the algorithms determine that the driver can no longer control the vehicle, smart driving will kick in. The well of data gleaned by the vehicle will then go to a team of in-house medical experts, who will be available through video calls and be able to refer physicians for further treatment if necessary.

Timeline

BeyonCa is unveiling the design of its first production car next spring while mass production is expected to take place in 2024. Unlike the “traditional” carmakers, “as a startup, we need to introduce the car to the market much earlier. We need to keep the market excited,” Soh said.

The firm plans to ship in both its home market China — one of the world’s largest premium auto markets — and abroad. It intends to have two factories. “We are a super premium car company, so we will most likely just have two factories in the world — one in China, and one outside. It can be in the Middle East, Europe, or Southeast Asia,” said Soh.

Soh is building BeyonCa against economic headwinds brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly dampened the confidence of consumers and investors around the world. But he isn’t too worried, saying that when the economy is doing well, the startup can hasten development, but in times of an economic downturn, the company will simply need to “pace” itself.

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