► Nio’s electric plans for Europe
► New Innovation Centre opens in Berlin
► Expected to launch in the UK later in 2023
Nio, one of the most prolific electric car brand from China has just opened a new ‘Innovation Centre’ in Berlin as the brand expands its foothold in Europe. The new centre is designed to be a research centre for the brand’s software and technology, as well as act as a hub for development of what it calls ‘user-experience defined vehicles.’ At the centre, teams will work on development of its infotainment software, for example, as well as localisation of its ‘Nomi’ personal assistant. It will also act as a central point for investigating future features that get suggested by user feedback.
All of this, according to Nio, proves how the brand is different to established OEMs. As well as unique details like its Power Swap Stations (that allow drivers to change out a dead battery for a fresh one in minutes), Nio boasts that it really does take user feedback on board, even deciding not to call Nio owners customers.
‘In the automotive industry, it’s always customer this… customer that,’ says Mark Zhou (pictured below on the right), Nio’s executive vice president at the opening of the Innovation Centre. ‘Instead, we call them users. We’re not just doing that to show that we’re different – there’s a real reason behind it. One reason is the frequency we have touchpoints with them is far more than a traditional OEM.’
Another reason for the new Innovation Centre opening is to increase Nio’s awareness of European trends and interests. Hui Zhang, Nio’s European vice presedent, says the centre was opened in order to ‘try to understand and quickly react to European themes and trends. We are patient for the European market, because the brand awareness and a brand’s reputation cannot be built between one day and another.’
What about the UK?
As the brand slowly increases its presence in Europe, it’s also making waves in the UK. Before an imminent announcement that it would join the UK market, the new ET5 saloon (likely a model that will launch here, as well as the ET5 Touring estate) will make an appearance at the 2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Nio’s Euro-spec range has started with the ES8 SUV (which we’ve driven in Norway here) and, more recently, the ET7 saloon that claims huge battery range. Nio says those new European markets will open with the ET7 saloon, as well as the EL7 (another SUV) and the ET5 saloon.
As well as the range of cars entering the market over the next few years, Nio has confirmed it will build 20 Power Swap Stations (where the battery pack of the car is replaced with a fully charged one at a purpose-built location) will be up and running in Europe by the end of 2022, with that number rising to 120 locations in 2023. We’ve tested how the Nio Power Swap Station works here.
‘Our compelling products, game-changing charging and battery swapping services, alongside truly innovative and flexible subscription models, will change the landscape of EVs,’ says Nio founder, William Li. ‘Our commitment to the region marks the start of Nio’s next chapter in our global development.’
More background on Nio: who are they and why should we take them seriously?
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 eight-year-old start-up opened its doors to CAR at its Shanghai base back in 2019, with access to the company’s founder and executive team. It’s a brand we’ve been following for a while.
Here’s why you should take notice of the upstart Tesla wannabe from China.
More from the Shanghai motor show
1. The Nio ET is a Model S clone
Proof that Nio should be taken seriously was provided at the 2019 Shanghai show by the global debut of the new ET Preview (pictured above), the precursor to the ET7 production car. 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 was designed to broaden the brand’s appeal in marketplaces where sedans still rule.
2. Thinking big: the electric car architecture
Nio’s Swedish R&D chief Roger Malkusson told CAR there was more to come from the brand’s original 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 has been working hard to develop its second-gen platform. It was expected that it will continue to work with its manufacturing partner JAC Motors.
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 has already committed to launching an ultra-long range battery with a capacity of 155kWh in China.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
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 (above right) 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. Simply pull up to the unit pictured above, staff will reverse your car in and robots do the rest. We witnessed it happening and it’s quite something to behold. Potentially game-changing, even…
4. China now, Europe next
Founder William Li (above) told CAR back in 2019 that Nio was perfecting its product and systems in China before going global. We’re now seeing the fruits of that preparatory work.
‘It will be a few years, not decades,’ he told us. ‘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 has been busy working with one eye on international tastes and the company has an R&D base in the UK, don’t forget…
Nio launched in Norway first and has learned plenty about tweaking its approach for European tastes. We’d say it’s well placed to launch in the UK, just as Brits switch on to the possibilities of electric cars.
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,’ predicted engineering boss Malkusson back in 2019.
‘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 in China (and now Norway, too), 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. The first Nio House in Europe was launched in Oslo, to support the roll-out in Norway’s EV hotspot.
7. High voltage, high speed
Nio says the Nordschleife-slaying EP9 (above) was no one-off. The British-built supercar was a calling card for Nio’s performance ambitions, according to Nio UK’s former 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.’
We’ll update this article with more news on Nio and its European ambitions in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned for more!
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