Seven reasons why Chinese maker Nio promises to be the next big electric disruptor. By Tim Pollard.
THE INNOVATIONS TRANSFORMING OUR DRIVING WORLD
Is this China’s Tesla moment?
Remember Nio? The Chinese electric car maker shot to fame in 2017 with the launch of the EP9, a hotshot supercar that went on to claim the lap record for EVs at the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife. But there’s much more to Nio than just super-fast race cars masquerading as eco transport. The EP9 and Nio’s Formula E team are the Trojan horses for a deadly serious electric disruptor. The four-year-old start-up opened its doors to CAR at this spring’s Shanghai motor show, with access to the company’s founder and executive team. Here’s why you should take notice of the upstart Tesla wannabe from China.
1 THE NEW NIO ET IS A MODEL S CLONE
Proof that Nio should be taken seriously was provided in Shanghai by the global debut of the new ET Preview (pictured left). And, no, it doesn’t look very much like a concept car to us. This smoothly styled, production-ready 5.1m-long saloon is a warning shot across the bows of the Tesla Model S, taking Nio’s previously SUV-only tech and bringing it to the four-door saloon world.
Fitted with nickel-cobalt-manganese battery packs boasting a choice of 70kWh or 84kWh capacities like the ES6 and ES8 crossovers, the saloon would broaden the brand’s appeal in marketplaces where sedans still rule.
2 THINKING BIG
Nio’s Swedish R&D chief Roger Malkusson said there was more to come from the current electric car architecture: ‘We will still launch one or two more products on the current platform. We already have two SUVs in China; our third and fourth vehicles will be something else. We are staying around the size you see here, 4.7-5.1m. The current platform is not feasible for small vehicles. We are focusing on the upper segments.’ Nio is working with JAC Motors to develop the second-gen platform.
3 KILLING RANGE ANXIETY
Nio has pinpointed a primary obstacle to electric car mass adoption in the coming years: most prospective owners don’t want to sacrifice the long range and ease of refuelling they’re used to with combustion engines. This is tricky with current lithium-ion battery technology, so Nio is working hard on a suite of battery solutions, as well as factoring more self-driving capability into future products.
The company’s app lets you reserve a charging space at one of 17,000 points across China. Or you can hail a mobile Nio Power Van to your place of work, which will add 60 miles in 10 minutes.
Intriguingly, there’s also a network of 40 battery-swap stations along key intercity motorways; book a slot, and a robot will replace your battery with a fully charged one in just 5min 20sec.
4 CHINA NOW, EUROPE NEXT
Founder William Li told CAR that Nio was perfecting its product and systems in China before going global. ‘It will be a few years, not decades. Now our priority is to sell in China – it’s still the world’s biggest car and EV market. When we are ready, we will expand.’ Nio’s Munich design studio is already working with one eye on international tastes.
5 BRACED FOR NEXT-GEN BATTERIES
‘Battery performance improvements will be linear in the next two to three years, and after that we expect a step change,’ predicts engineering boss Malkusson. ‘We are working with battery suppliers on what that will be – whether it’s solid-state or some other tech advance. Our battery range is 510km (320 miles) today; soon it’ll be 600km then 700km (370-430 miles). We have not yet decided whether battery-swap will stay in our second-generation platform or not. We may not need it.’
6 THE NIO HOUSE
Nio aims to make owning its cars more like a private members’ club. Users can visit 13 Nio Houses dotted across the major cities, where they can use cafes, auditoriums, libraries and hot-desking areas for work or pleasure. You win Nio points for advocacy and recommending friends; points can be swapped for drinks, merchandise, even a trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
7 HIGH VOLTAGE, HIGH SPEED
Nio says the Nordschleife-slaying EP9 (below) was no one-off. The British-built supercar was a calling card for Nio’s performance ambitions, according to Nio UK MD Angelika Sodian. ‘We will continue to develop it and could have our own performance line in the road cars. It would be a logical next step to keep the connection with our Formula E team.’
Charging options include battery swap or visit from the Nio Power Van. Flat underfloor batteries and compact motor units are proven concepts. Nio works with suppliers on smaller, better batteries.
ET Preview will turn into Nio’s first saloon, initially for China only