A premium electric car start-up, founded by a serial entrepreneur with a bold plan to take on the giants of the car industry through new technology and business concepts – it’s easy to see why Nio has been referred to as ‘China’s Tesla’.
But scratch below the surface and you’ll find there are far more differences than similarities between the two firms. That starts with their underlying philosophies: whereas Tesla set out to use new technology to disrupt the car industry and reinvent the car itself, Nio is aiming to capitalise on the massive changes the industry is undergoing to reinvent the user experience.
It’s an approach that makes Nio worthy of attention among a swarm of Chinese EV start-ups and a genuine contender to expand globally as a credibly premium car brand. And it has certainly made a flashy start.
Founded in 2014 (originally as Nextev), Nio might be familiar to you through its Formula E team (which won the inaugural 2014-15 driver’s championship with Nelson Piquet Jr) or the EP9 electric supercar, which currently holds the Nürburgring lap record for EVs. Business types might even recall Nio’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
That all came before the firm launched a road car. The first of those was the ES8, an SUV that went on sale in China last year, and it was followed by the smaller ES6 this year. In April, Nio showcased the ET, a concept that previews a saloon due in 2020.
Underpinning its range is a huge operation: offices in Shanghai and Beijing, a production plant in Hefei, a development facility in Nanjing and two battery plants. That’s just in China. There’s a tech centre in San Jose, a design studio in Munich and a performance division in Oxford. All told, Nio employs around 10,000 staff worldwide, many involved in developing novel technology for its ever-expanding range of cars.
While Nio is investing heavily in electric and autonomous tech, its innovative approach can also be seen through its customer-facing side. Its Nio app is used both to sell cars and as the basis to create a community, complete with points-based reward scheme. It has a growing number of gleaming showroom-cum-members-club Nio Houses – think a Tesla or Apple Store mixed with a Starbucks. There’s also a line-up of merchandise that ranges from model cars to bold collaborations with high-end fashion and homeware designers.