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May 22, 2017

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NIO aims to add some zoom to electric vehicles

CHINA’S green car market is becoming bigger and more varied, but few electric carmakers have ventured into the realm of fast, high-performance vehicles.

Seeking to fill that gap is NIO, a Shanghai-based global vehicle startup that is designing and developing new high-performance electric cars. It was founded by William Li, chairman of Bitauto and NIO.

The company just announced it has begun taking pre-orders for its electric supercar model called the NIO EP9. It also unveiled a high-performance electric sport-utility vehicle called the NIO ES8 at the Shanghai Auto Show last month.

That model will feature a body and chassis completely of aluminum, all-wheel drive and active air suspension.

NIO calls the EP9 model “the fastest electric car in the world,” based on lap times at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, a test ground in Germany. The EP9 accelerates from zero to 200 kilometers per hour in 7.1 seconds and has a top speed of 313 kilometers an hour, according to figures released by the company.

“The company is targeting high-end consumers instead of the mass market,” said Fan Jingjing, an auto analyst at a marketing research company.

NIO was launched with the intention of leading the way in autonomous, electric-powered and smart vehicles, turning out products that motorists would feel proud to own. The company has also said it wants to redefine services in the auto industry.

The company has been involved in the FIA Formula E Championship, the world’s first single-seater, all-electric racing series.

Buyers of green cars are generally categorized into two groups. High-end buyers want their vehicles as symbols of their personal identities and their technological savvy. Mid-range buyers choose the new-energy vehicles because of easy access to car plates, subsidies provided by government and ease of daily commuting.

“High-end consumers have a budget above 300,000 yuan (US$43,622) to buy an electric car, while the budget of mid-range shoppers is anything below that,” said David Zhang, an independent automotive consultant.

Qin Lihong, president of NIO, said the NIO ES8, to be launched by the end of this year, will target families in China’s first-tier and second-tier cities.

“A seven-seat, electric sport-utility vehicle is expected to become a popular choice for Chinese families with a second child in large cities,” Qin said.

According to an auto industry report published by WAYS Consulting Co, 71 new-energy vehicle models were rolled out at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show. Some 59 percent of them were sport-utility models.

“It was a highlight of the show,” Fan said. “Carmakers are responding to the rising demands of consumers.”

High-performance electric cars require strong investment in research and development.

The company said its investors include Tencent, Temasek, Baidu Capital, Sequoia Capital, Lenovo and TPG.

NIO’s global headquarters is located in the Shanghai Auto Innovation Park. The 1,600 employees there are responsible for integrated vehicle research and development, manufacturing operations, sales, marketing and customer services.

The company has about 2,000 employees in total, with four main offices in Shanghai, Munich, London and San Jose in California. About 70 percent of the employees in their global offices are research and development experts.

Qin said the company decided to set up its global headquarters in Shanghai because of its high reputation in research and development and its track record in fostering the rise of the auto industry in China.


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