The NIO ES8 has been in the news lately. The new electric SUV from the Chinese startup (with billions in backing) certainly looks enticing, and Bloomberg has even called it competition to the Tesla Model X. Strong words, but are they founded on reality?
- 70 kWh liquid-cooled battery
- range: 355 km (220 miles) NEDC or 500 km (310 miles) at 60 km/h (37 mph)
- weight: 2,460 kg (5423.37 lb)
- 0–100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.4 seconds
- Two 240 kW motors (480 kW total)
- Top speed of 180 km/h (111.84 mph)
- Braking 100–0 km/h can be done in just 33.8 m (110.89 ft)
- All-wheel drive
The NIO ES8 Is Serious Competition
With everything being a “Tesla killer” these days and half of the hopeful mainstream carmakers still working on some kind of real competition for Tesla, we can’t help but wonder if the NIO ES8 really is going to challenge the Tesla Model X.
Probably out of all the hopeful Tesla wannabes, the NIO ES8 comes the closest in terms of what it has to offer.
Technically, it could compete with the Model X. The electric SUV has an aesthetic personality of its own instead of the myriad of knockoffs presented. But where NIO really distances itself from its local competition is that it tackles a few key features other carmakers have yet to offer coherently. The ES8 will have battery swapping, something Tesla has determined isn’t worth pursuing on a mass scale. Most importantly, NIO says it will build a fast charging network, 1,100 stations in China by 2020. And if potential clients are still worried, NIO even thought of charging vans that will come to get them back on the road as far out as over 100 km (62 miles) and within 10 minutes.
Charging networks are more and more developed all over the world, but there are still notable gaps for various routes and uses. So far, Tesla has done the best job filling those gaps. NIO rightfully understands this as being a crucial aspect of attracting potential new customers, especially in the lucrative US market, and apparently thinks mobile vans will be a good temporary solution..
The other important aspect of any electric vehicle (EV) these days is that it has to have some sort of autonomous driving feature. NIO strikes a high chord doing this on its first model. The ES8 is the product of three years of designing an electric SUV. According to Alysha Webb, a longtime Chinese EV journalist, the NIO ES8 “even include(s) an Artificial Intelligence-driven personal assistant that learns your preferences,” another must-have for potential buyers.
China Strikes The Right Chords With The NIO ES8
A Chinese company has a few obstacles it needs to tackle in order to have an internationally recognizable brand name. Chinese carmakers must show they are able to offer quality at an affordable price. For the latter part, NIO is able to beat Tesla’s Model X price. It starts at 448,000 yuan (about $68,000) in China, compared to $79,500 (before incentives) in Tesla’s home market, the USA. The battery lease will also give access to 3-minute swapping stations. Considering that the Tesla Model X starts at 836,000 yuan ($127,108.00) in China (after import taxes), you can see how the ES8 has an upper hand there.
Although the NIO ES8 can sprint from 0 to 31 mph in 2.2 seconds, what makes NIO different from its local competition is that the company based its mission three years ago on the user experience and the technology. This is a recurring theme with new startups that are realizing the user is what is important, and should be approached in a different way than in the past.
Rinspeed’s “Skateboard” hints at the concept of “user first, technology is just a commodity.” So does Chris Bangles’ Redspace car. EO Smart Connect Cars only confirms that trend. This is something our Western carmakers still have a hard time innovating with — the user’s experience first and foremost. Traditional carmakers need to open up a world of mobility beyond personal transportation, but what they know is personal transportation.
NIO gets its DNA from its founders — Jack Cheng, now the CEO of XPT, the powertrain division behind NIO, and William Li, ex-Chairman of Bitauto and NextEV, now Chairman and NIO co-Founder. Jack comes from the traditional automotive industry while William is from the age of digital human and machine interface. William is one of the driving forces behind NIO’s artificial intelligence (AI) system called NOMI. Together, they gathered financial support from Tencent, Temasek, Baidu, Sequoia, Lenovo, and TPG, amongst a few others. Needless to say, NextEV is heavily involved in Formula E, so we’re assuming NIO’s vehicles will have some exciting sportiness.
What Makes A Modern Carmaker Successful?
Understandably, traditional carmakers are at a disadvantage when it comes to conveying an appealing new future. Car designs haven’t fundamentally changed much in the past 6 decades. However, they are at an advantage when it comes to manufacturing. They are tooled for it and do the job fairly efficiently. New mobility enablers understand what the newer generations need and want. They also understand how those new generations think and the reality of their daily lives. But they have to prove manufacturing capability and efficiency at scale. As Elon Musk has said, this is really hard.
The trend is clear by now. China wants internationally recognizable automotive brands and it the government is working in conjunction with carmakers. Unlike the West, where we watch a sad spectacle of endless and futile political games and partisanship that hampers progress, particularly apparent lately in the US, China has worked diligently both at the state level and with its industry to move forward. We’re willing to bet this will pay off far better in the near future than our unfruitful Western babble.
NIO is one of the most prominent EV companies in China. It represents this new brand of mobility startups that puts the user experience first using today’s and tomorrow’s technology to achieve mobility goals. Although it faces domestic competition, in the international arena, Europe and US startups will be its biggest roadblock. But an affordable quality car is ultimately what loosens wallets. China is very clearly investing in the entrepreneurs and global startups it thinks can create the desired product at a globally competitive cost.
We look forward to test driving the NIO ES8 to see if, indeed, it is the Tesla Model X competition so many think it is.