How will electric cars with batteries that can be swapped out in three minutes impact vacationers on road trips, as well as the taxi, ridesharing, rail, and airline sectors? Perhaps the more pertinent question for now is whether NIO and others will out-innovate Tesla in the electric car arena.
Chinese customers can buy the ES8 sports utility vehicle, with a range of 500 kilometers (311 miles) on a single charge, for 448,000 yuan ($67,783), the company said late Saturday in Beijing. That compares with 836,000 yuan for Tesla’s Model X, and 596,300 yuan for BMW’s gasoline-powered X5.
“Electrification of automobiles provides us an opportunity to change lanes to lead,” said William Li, a founder of NIO. “Our goal is to make charging more handy than refueling.”
After raising more than $1 billion from investors led by Tencent Holdings Ltd., NIO is preparing for its next phase of growth in the world’s biggest electric-car market. In addition to Tesla, the company will be competing against homegrown rivals such as BYD Co., as well as industry giants Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co.
NIO, formerly known as NextEV, is among several startups to have sprouted in China after the introduction of incentives for new-energy carmakers to help cut reliance on imported oil. As governments around the world consider phasing out fossil-fuel-powered vehicles to curb pollution, automakers are rushing to develop zero-emission technologies, with batteries emerging as the dominant viable alternative to internal-combustion engines.
Last month, VW said it would invest more than 10 billion euros ($11.8 billion) with its partner Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Corp. to develop a range of new-energy vehicles, and Ford Motor Co. will spend 5 billion yuan in an alliance with Anhui Zotye Automobile Co.
The seven-seater ES8 can accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 4.4 seconds, according to the company. The braking distance of the SUV, equipped with 5 millimeter wave radars, is 33.8 meters (111 feet).
Owners of the ES8 can charge their car by swapping batteries at power-swap stations in three minutes or recharge with the help of “Power Mobile” service vehicles that travel to motorists.
Equipped with Mobileye NV’s EyeQ4 chip, the ES8 also employs NOMI, an artificial intelligence system with functions ranging from adjusting the in-car temperature to communicating with the driver and taking photos.
NIO plans to build more than 1,100 power-swap stations in China by 2020 and have more than 1,200 “Power Mobile” service vehicles. A battery-swap station can be assembled within a day, said Li. The carmaker will also offer other free services including road rescue.
Founded in 2014 by Li and a group of internet entrepreneurs, NIO is also backed by investors including Baillie Gifford & Co., the second-biggest institutional investor in Tesla Inc., Lone Pine Capital LLC, CITIC Capital Holdings Ltd. and China Asset Management Co.
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Photo credit: Traffic travels along the Second Ring Road in Beijing, China, on December. 2, 2015. Electric cars would help China and others attack their pollution problems. Qilai Shen / Bloomberg