Nio held its European launch in the heart of Berlin on Friday. With its three electric car models headed for Europe, its Nio Home concept replacing car dealerships and showrooms, and its battery swapping stations and subscription models, this young company showed it is capable of disrupting the nascent European electric car market. We report from the event.
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First and foremost on display were, of course, Nio’s three models for the European market, two electric sedans, the ET7 and ET5 and an electric SUV, the EL7. All have already been revealed, their specs shown, and names changed so as not to anger German stalwart Audi.
Guests could sit in these luxury vehicles and try the company’s new 3D augmented reality glasses and multi-speaker surround sound as part of Nio’s mobile lounge concept. The company presented its Nio Home concept and range of fashion and lifestyle products, many of which are made out of upcycled or recycled materials from their car production.
The approach taken by the company is very clear. This is a new global age, with a user base who are interested in sustainability and design. Sustainability thinking appears to be built into the company’s approach throughout, which is very focussed on constant user feedback and personal engagement with its customers as part of a greater, international and wealthy customer base that the company is very insistent is a much-cherished community.
Nio Seeds, was presented as a communication platform with inspirational talks and exchanges for the “Nio community”. For the presentation of Seeds, guests were treated to a talk on sustainability and big data by Forster and Partners, the company founded by Sir Norman Foster, responsible among many other famous projects, for the renovation and rebuilding of the Berlin Reichstag. Founder and CEO William Li tells his staff he spends and least 30 minutes per day talking to those in the community outside of the company.
The European launch had a slightly home base feel to it. Not just because of the European designers and artists who are engaged in extensive merchandising products, Nio Home architecture, but really at the core of the company. Although based in Shanghai, this electric car startup was international right from the get-go. The company’s design centre has always been in Munich, Germany, headed by Chris Tommersen, the US-Icelandic company head of design, Nio’s technical centre is based in Oxford, UK, and the company’s AI and IT centres are based in San Jose in the USA.
This is reflected in what appears to be the company’s sales target group. Design-savvy international jet setters who want to stay flexible, who are not caught up in ownership as a status symbol, but rather lifestyle choices – as the company repeated in its keynote presentation, “Flexibility is the new premium.”
Batteries: swappable, chargeable and upgradeable
At the keynote, the head engineer, Danielo Teobaldi, presented Nio electric cars’ technical specialities. Here, the most unique aspect of the products of the Shanghai-based company is the battery.
Nio batteries can be either bought or rented with the car. Two battery packs will now be available in Europe, the standard range and the long range. “You can use the standard range for your commute and flexibly upgrade to long range at the power station,” Danielo Teobaldi told guests, speaking of Nio’s battery-swapping stations, one of which is now located in Berlin, near the famous West Berlin shopping mile, Kurfurstendamm. “Starting next year, the 150 kW version will be available in Europe”, he announced to spontaneous applause from the audience. This is the battery pack that should allow the company’s cars to hit near the 1000 km range.
“Every Nio car is a high-performance electric vehicle with a chargeable, swappable and upgradable battery,” Teobaldi summarised since the batteries can also be updated over the air.
120 battery-swapping stations to roll out in Europe
This is indeed a unique feature internationally. Not only are the batteries swappable, but they can be charged with both AC and DC chargers, the latter up to 140 kW for ultra-fast charging. In summer this year, Nio presented its 500 kW DC charger and next-generation battery swapping station. Just weeks before, Nio had announced plans to start producing its own developed battery packs in 2024.
Nio is to start the rollout of its battery-swapping stations in Europe. Besides the two that have already opened in Norway and the above-mentioned station now in Berlin, the company plans to open 120 battery-swapping stations in Europe by the end of next year. These are already being manufactured in the region at the company’s manufacturing plant in Hungary.
Electric cars by subscription
By the time it got to the nuts and bolts of drivers getting hold of actual vehicles in Europe, it became clear that this is a premium brand for wealthy customers. Subscription models start (per month) at 999 euros in Germany and 1089 euros in the Netherlands, 10,899 SEK in Sweden and 8,499 DKK in Denmark, for example, for the Nio ET5. While ownership is still possible, with the option of renting and upgrading batteries, the subscription model took focus at this presentation. This is not unique to Nio, and car rental companies are now also moving to these models to enable more people to access electric vehicles with flexible options.
High tech, but no need to be overwhelmed
The technical delights inside its cars include a little interactive robot with eyes on the vehicles’ dashboards called Nomi – apparently derived from “know-me”, as in the car’s artificial intelligence will get to know and be a companion to the vehicle’s occupants. The whole concept of the incredibly extensive technology in the car, as its Associate Vice President, Product Experience head Ted Li explained, is to keep things simple despite the incredibly complex onboard computing array of the Banyan intelligent vehicle system. Technology choices can be kept simple by simply taking on the preferences of other users with their recommendations through the much-hyped Nio community.
Nio Home replaces dealerships and showrooms
Overall, the feeling was that this player is already in Europe as battery swapping stations roll out, as customer users have already been using the Nio Home concept in Norway where Nio has been testing its products with the electric-car savvy population. The Nio Home concept is something like a community centre for jet-setting international citizens, in a mix between a cafe, co-working, shopping and lounge, with only 25% of the space dedicated to the showroom for Nio vehicles. Events are held here, like movie nights and talks, not only open to Nio customers but the general public as well. That should do well for customer interest and cultivating a sense of belonging.
European design is, of course, an integral part of this concept for Europe, being undertaken by the Danish design house Schmidt, Hammer & Lassen, who have already designed the Nio House in Norway, while the Berlin building will be finished by the end of this year. So far, 80 of these centres are already built and operating globally, most of which are, of course, in China, where Nio has been ferociously testing and perfecting its products with its customer feedback loops and constant user communication.
Overall, the European launch event made the impression that this new player in the European market offers more than its competitors in the premium sector. Not just the flexibility and the upgrades, but a whole new infrastructure with battery swapping, compatible with existing charging infrastructure, and even capable of balancing grids where required. The question is how large this cosmopolitan, design-savvy, sustainability enthusiast target group really is since many in European cities of the new generation of sustainability advocates are giving up cars altogether for even more sustainable transport modes. So far, unlike Sono Motors, Nio does not appear to be catering to the car-sharing or ride-sharing markets, but with the kind of flexibility the company advocates, this could be just around the corner.
reporting from a live event at the Tempodrome in Berlin
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