NIO: Chinese game-changer with premium ambitions
Chinese start-up NIO is coming to Europe with three electric models. Each of them is jam-packed with technology and promises exhilarating performance, but what really makes them stand out, is their interchangeable battery. NIO’s distribution model is quite unusual, too.
NIO is the brainchild of Chinese internet entrepreneur William Li, who founded the company in November 2014. In 2015, NIO already won the Formula E World Drivers’ Championship, only to break many records with its electric EP9 hypercar at the Nürburgring, among others, in the following years. In 2018, the company started delivering the ES8, an electric SUV, to its domestic customers.
Barely eight years later, NIO has built 250,000 cars. It is still a relatively small player compared to other manufacturers, but it is listed on the stock exchange and, at €25 billion, is worth almost as much as the many times larger Stellantis group. This should enable the company to finance its expansion.
NIO wants to compete with the (German) premium brands and does so with high-tech and superbly finished cars. The European market will soon get acquainted with the ET5, a compact saloon similar to the Tesla Model 3 Performance, with two electric motors that together deliver 360 kW or 490 hp. The EL7, a mid-size SUV, and the ET7, a svelte saloon, both deliver 480 kW or 653 hp. If anything, these numbers indicate that NIO is not a budget brand.
The most striking external features of each NIO are the large hump above the windscreen and the bulges on the left and right of the roof above the A-pillar. These house a high-tech lidar and two 8-megapixel cameras that explore the environment and, together with the many other sensors (33 in total), send as much as 8 Gb of data per second to the car, providing information to all driving assistance systems.
Power Swap Stations
NIO's biggest asset concerns its interchangeable batteries. Every NIO has a battery pack of the same size, even if the content varies from 75 kWh to 100 kWh or even 150 kWh at a later stage. Those batteries can be swapped fully automatically in as little as five minutes at Power Swap Stations built specifically by NIO, so "refuelling" should not take longer than filling up the fuel tank of a non-electric car. By 2023, there should be 120 battery swap stations in Europe and by 2025, NIO aims to have more than 1,000 such sites outside China. To be clear, you can also recharge the battery in the conventional ways.
Special business model
While other newcomers try to build their own dealer network, NIO opts for so-called NIO Houses where the cars can be viewed and product information is provided. The only way private individuals can order a NIO is by means of an all-inclusive subscription. For business customers, NIO is partnering with legacy leasing companies. After pilot market Norway, the three NIOs can now also be ordered in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland and the UK will follow in 2023.