More and more Chinese automakers are pushing into Europe – Nio is already there; albeit briefly. Again and again the still young car manufacturer is compared to Tesla, but if you look closely you can see that Nio does most things very differently.
The comparison of Nio with Tesla is obvious – if you don’t look closely. The same is true of William Li, the CEO of the Chinese automaker. He is always measured against Tesla boss Elon Musk. If you ask him about the differences with the radiant Tesla personality, he answers soberly: “That I write my Facebook posts myself to communicate directly with our users and not just make a Twitter statement,” says William Li. Li and Nio have had a few difficult years, had to fight for much-needed billions in several investment rounds and only gradually is the company calming down. Only recently, the Nio brought its next new car model to European customers with the ET5 – delivered in proper style in the new Nio House in Frankfurt.
In addition to networking via social media, the Nio Houses are the linchpin for contacting customers. Instead of a boring car dealership like most competitors offer, Nio takes a different approach. The Nio houses are chic meeting places where not everything revolves around the car. The interior is reminiscent of the lounge of a Scandinavian workspace or an airport – the fact that cars are offered here seems to be no more than a marginal phenomenon. Interested parties have already found out about the individual models on the Internet. At Nio, there is haptic contact with the brand – relaxed, casual and without salespeople hungry for commission waiting behind desks for their supposed victims.
Just like the Nio Houses in the big cities, Nio is also presented at motor shows. Tesla does not attend such trade shows; Nio uses this in some regions for proactive branding, such as most recently at Auto China in Shanghai. In addition to the Hyundai offshoot Genesis, there is hardly a manufacturer who has brought so many vehicles onto the market as a newcomer in recent years. There are three series ET, EC and ES with the models ES 7/8, ET 5/7 and EC 6/7 – all electrically powered, well connected and stylish to look at. Inside there is puristic luxury, comfortable seats and stately displays – typically China. For good vibes and ease of use, there’s Nomi, which resides, entertains, answers questions, and takes commands in a small sphere on the dashboard. Nomi, I’m cold – let the air conditioning heat up or the heated seats. Nomi – now available in two versions – also tells little jokes and learns new things every day – thanks to artificial intelligence.
That also seems to apply to Nio. The brand managers have taken a good look at the competition and do this every day. The German premium manufacturers in particular are scrutinized, one or two US manufacturers apart from Tesla and of course a few models from China. In contrast to all other manufacturers, Nio relies on the exchangeable battery principle in order to avoid long charging times. Like many others, William Li had probably hoped that other manufacturers would jump on the principle of exchangeable batteries and spread it in this way. But none – the international competition is about maximum charging speeds with 800-volt technology and so the 70 swap stations currently existing in Europe are reserved for the Nio models.
The construction of the exchange stations is a tough business – in Germany there are currently only two in the vicinity of Munich and Düsseldorf; a third in Berlin is in trial operation. But the permits take a long time, the choice of locations too, and then there are always the costs. The exchangeable batteries are unique in the league of electric car providers – but many customers seem overly suspicious of the offer. As with the new Nio ET5, the inclined customer can therefore decide whether he wants to buy the car and battery pack at the reduced entry-level price of 47,500 euros. However, the small 75 kWh battery then has to be rented at a high price. For 169 euros per month. If you pay an additional 12,000 euros for the battery, you save yourself the expensive monthly fee – but lock yourself out of the system of exchangeable batteries. The large battery pack even makes the Nio ET5 21,000 euros more expensive. Problem: if you don’t quickly change the battery at the swap station, then don’t charge it quickly either. The maximum charging power is too tired for the electric model of the premium league in the ET5 with 130 or 140 kilowatts. Here Nio has to come up with something to be competitive. Audi or Porsche refuel with up to 270 kW, Tesla or Hyundai with 250 kW and the new Lucid models with more than 300 kilowatts. After all, Nio not only equips all of its new models with cameras, but also offers future-oriented lidar technology for driver assistance in the coming years.
However, Nio not only does many things differently from the international competition in terms of technology, but also in terms of his appearance, and this does not just mean the casual chinos and sneakers that William Li also prefers to wear to business appointments. It’s about the community, because hardly any car manufacturer wants to connect with its customers via smartphone like Nio. Not only should customers become fans who write and talk to each other, but there is also a direct line to the company headquarters. Problems with the models, with the loading stop or a query about the operation should be answered via the chat function faster than with everyone else and also strengthen the sense of togetherness as a community. The financial hard times seem to be over, but Nio is under a lot of pressure to break even. “As a start-up, it takes a while to be profitable. We have invested a great deal in the development of our cars and in the infrastructure and thus in the future,” explains William Li. “We have a precisely coordinated plan to generate profits step by step. It took Tesla 16 years to become profitable. With Nio, that will be the case much faster.” After all, in the past month of April 2023, Nio delivered more than 6,600 vehicles – an increase of around a third. It seems to be going so slowly.
I’m a recent graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. I started working as a news reporter for 24 Hours World about two years ago, and I’ve been writing articles ever since. My main focus is automotive news, but I’ve also written about politics, lifestyle, and entertainment.