It's a brand you may never have heard of, but just days ago NIO overtook General Motors to become the sixth most valuable car maker in the world with market capitalisation of $50.78 billion. This news has coincided with what NIO is calling the 'Marco Polo Project' within which it will expand its operations into key destinations around the globe.
Europe is at the top of the list, with William Li Bin, NIO CEO, stating recently: “We're hoping to be able to start initial trials in countries where EVs are more popular, in the second half of the year.”
We probed NIO for additional comment and Vice President of NIO in Europe, Hui Zhang, exclusively told Discover EV: “NIO has stated its intention to enter the European market in late 2021 and we are working hard towards this plan. Any further details will be confirmed in the near future.”
European expansion makes sense for NIO as it is the largest EV market in the world and, current wranglings aside, establishing itself in one market effectively permits access to the entire continent. In terms of EV sales (including PHEVs), Europe is well north of half-a-million EVs so far this year, whilst China lags behind by around 3 per cent.
Another thing to bear in mind for NIO is that with more stringent emissions limits coming in at the end of 2020, and getting tougher, there is a ready market for an EV-only car maker. Established brands have the legacy of internal combustion to work away from whereas NIO was founded as an EV maker and has poured the entirety of its R&D efforts into the technology.
Don't underestimate NIO as a Chinese brand making slightly ropey copies of western technology. The company is the real deal to the extent that it has both an advanced battery programme and an autonomous driving system which some will have you believe is better than Tesla Autopilot. NIO's stock is also hot property, so investors have confidence.
On the battery front, various sources have reported that the company's founder, William Li Bin, has announced a 150kWh battery for its ES6 SUV, doubling its range from around 260 miles up to 550 – beating the Lucid Air and Tesla Model S Plaid. This would put NIO's regular, mid-sized SUV on par with equivalent petrol or diesel cars, though full details are set to be revealed at the beginning of January.
Over in China, NIO operates battery as a service (BaaS) – whereby owners can swap out batteries if they want more range and pay a hire fee for the privilege. Most recently, it announced a new 100kWh pack for the aforementioned ES6 and EC6 which has a significantly higher energy density, so whilst it's unlikely that we'll get BaaS here, the 100kWh pack could become the standard in Europe for the brand's most popular model.
As well as advanced batteries, NIO's semi-autonomous NIO Pilot, released to Chinese customers just last month, could well be better-suited to Europe's traffic. NIO CEO Li said that the company honed the technology across 186,000 miles and 30 Chinese cities and reckons that it performs better than the equivalent Tesla system. Given Europe's comparatively dense road network – certainly when compared to the USA – this could work in its favour here.
We'll report on any further development in NIO's plans in due course.