The European electric car market is becoming all the more diverse as one of the world’s newest automotive startups enters the fray. Chinese multinational automobile manufacturer, NIO, is getting ready to start shipping units to Norway, which will be the first market the EV startup explores outside of China.
But who is NIO? What does their brand stand for? What kind of vehicles are in their lineup? These questions and more we will answer in today’s blog about NIO, a company that has been called “China’s answer to Tesla.”
Background: About NIO
The international community knows the brand as NIO, but the company’s real name is in fact Weilai (蔚来) which literally translates as “Blue Sky is Coming.” Perhaps more poetically, the name is a homonym of another Chinese word, Weilai (未来) which means “the future.”
So who was responsible for the founding of the future of electric vehicles? The answer is William Li (Chinese: Li Bin, 李斌). Li currently serves as Chairman and CEO, with Lihong Qin as President, and Wei Feng as CFO. These are the key people behind the vision. The company was founded in 2014 with its headquarters in Shanghai, and has received investment from many tech titans, including Tencent, Temasek, Sequoia, Lenovo and TPG.
Since their founding, the company gained permission to test autonomous vehicles in California, and even filed a $1.8 billion IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. After starting at $9.90 a share in 2018, they are now sitting at $50.90.
What Sets NIO Apart from the Competition?
When you look at the current NIO lineup, they don’t appear to have anything so different from other EV offerings. The majority of current production models are SUVs, but an electric SUV isn’t anything so exciting. So how do they differentiate themselves?
A True EV Company
The first differentiator is actually one that it shares with main rival Tesla. NIO is a true electric-vehicle company. It’s not an established blue-chip automotive giant like VW, GM or Ford, just now steadily making the switch into EVs. It’s a dedicated, focused EV company with a vision to make the electric car a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine.
Perhaps the most unique thing about NIO is its battery swapping model. As Tesla and others look for ways to boost charging speeds, NIO decided to offer a completely different option: the battery swap. Owners of NIO cars can drive their low-battery vehicles into a NIO Power center — there are already 143 such stations in China, mostly strategically placed on major highways — where you can have your batteries swapped out in minutes. That’s right, instead of charging up, you just get an entirely fresh new battery. It’s turned EV batteries into BaaS – Batteries as a Service.
Battery swapping isn’t the only model that NIO employs. Like Tesla, they also offer level 2 home charging stations to allow you to charge up in your garage or driveway. In China, NIO Power also operates a fleet of mobile charging vans that can be called upon to come to wherever you are and give you a quick power boost of 50-60 miles in a few minutes, however much you need to get you to a full charging or battery swap station.
Finally, despite being such a young company, NIO is already offering SAE level 2 autonomous driving systems as part of its ADAS suite. They use the EyeQ4 vision chip from Mobileye at the core of their technology, and was the first company to do so. The NIO Pilot system is capable of lane centering, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, highway and traffic jam driving, lane changing and more.
What’s in NIO’s Current Range?
NIO currently offers 4 production models in its range, three of which are SUV models, and the other (their first model from 2016) a sports car coupe. The models are as follows:
- EP9 (launched 2016): 2-door Coupe
- EC6 (launched 2020): 5-door mid-size SUV
- ES6 (launched 2019): 5-door mid-size SUV
- ES8 (launched 2018): 5-door full-size SUV
Among their upcoming models, you’ll find the EF9 Minivan, ES3 Subcompact SUV, ET5 Sedan and the ET7 Sedan. Both sedan models are set to launch in 2021, and the remaining SUV and minivan models in 2022.
Conclusion: Why is NIO Important for China? And the World?
NIO isn’t just a common startup. Its creation and success carry heavy symbolic value for the Chinese, but also offer a tremendous opportunity for buyers across the world. Looking at China, first of all, we have a country where domestic auto brands have struggled to compete meaningfully on the world stage against the likes of GM, Ford, VW, Mercedes-Benz, and so on. Even within China, these brands continue to outshine domestic Chinese auto brands.
When it comes to EVs, however, it’s a different story. The electric car is a relatively new idea, and China has a well-established infrastructure and investment in green technology, so it was almost inevitable that EVs would present China with a chance to launch its own world-beating brands that would take their place in the new automotive world. It’s a matter of national pride for China that NIO succeeds and confirms China’s place not as a mere factory of other people’s vehicles, but as a creator and innovator.
Finally, NIO also means great things for the wider world. The battery-swapping model in particular offers alternatives to those who are worried about charging times, or about being unable to install home charging stations as a solution. NIO, then, could act as a catalyst that helps expand the EV sector, and grow it to new heights.
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