A startup is taking on Tesla with a stunning SUV in the hottest market for electric cars
Electric car startup Nio is planning to battle Tesla in the most lucrative market for battery-powered vehicles: China.
Nio will sell its electric SUV, the ES8, in China in early 2018. The move puts the startup in direct competition with Tesla as it looks to gain traction in the country.
China had more electric car sales than Europe and the US in both 2015 and 2016 and has also exhibited faster sales growth.
Tesla has tripled its revenue in China to $1 billion in 2016, though it still makes more money in the US.
Chinese internet company Tencent acquired a 5% stake in Tesla in March, highlighting a vote of confidence in Tesla’s position in the world’s most populous country. Tencent has also invested in Nio.
Nio, which is based in Shanghai, is smart to introduce a large SUV at a time where demand for the vehicles is on the rise among affluent Chinese buyers. The startup has offices in Munich and San Jose and is led in the US by former Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior.
We spoke to Warrior about the ES8 and what to expect — scroll down for a closer look:
Nio has teamed up with JAC Motors, a Chinese car manufacturer, to manufacture the car in China in late 2017. The vehicle will come with a swappable battery.
The SUV features a digital instrument cluster and large infotainment console. Warrior said Nio is trying to become a leader in the connected car space by developing digital cockpits and an AI assistant that can control features in the car and the owner’s home.
The SUV will be capable of Level 2 autonomy, the same as Tesla. Nio will use the data collected by the ES8 to develop the software for Level 4 autonomy, which means the car is fully self-driving in specific geographic regions.
Jamie Carlson, a former engineer for Tesla Autopilot, is leading Nio’s autonomous driving team. Carlson also worked on Apple’s Special Projects team — the division generally understood to be working on Apple’s secretive car project.
The startup has an autonomous driving permit in California.
Nio will sell an electric SUV in the US in 2020 that is capable of Level 4 autonomy.
Nio unveiled Nio Eve, its concept car pictured above, at SXSW in March to announce its plans for the US market.
Nio has attracted major investors. Tencent and Baidu led an $87 million funding round for the startup in March. Sequoia Capital and Lenovo have also invested in Nio, formerly named NextEV.
Nio has raised nearly $1 billion and is valued at $2.9 billion.
Nio also plans to sell 10 of its electric supercar, the EP9, for $1.48 million a pop. The car can accelerate to 195 mph and has a range of 265 miles, Nio claims. It can accelerate to 62 mph in just 2.7 seconds.