What does the average person from a western country really know about NIO? What does an American or European who holds NIO stock actually know about the company? That is what I have been asking myself ever since I tried the European version of the NIO ES8 and met the NIO Norway team. I returned to the Netherlands and have not stopped learning since.
After some background about things most readers might already know about NIO and our experience with the team in Norway, I will get to what was discussed during our interview with the general manager of NIO Norway. Feel free to see our video of the interview and see for yourself his big smile and enthusiasm for the work NIO is doing. The third part of the article will go over some really wild and unique benefits NIO customers in China can use their NIO points for.
NIO Refresher Course
When it comes to NIO, what would people consider to be common knowledge? Some might remember their troubled balance sheet in the early years (that they have since resolved). Some might remember that they have the Chinese state’s seal of approval and are thus unlikely to fail because of it. They might know that NIO does not have its own factory yet, that it partnered with Intel Mobileye for autonomy, and that it successfully introduced battery swapping in China. But all in all, that barely scratches the surface of an inherently Chinese success story that has not yet been translated into English by the media.
In my previous article and video about the NIO ES8, I explained that I discovered that the company’s products are shockingly good — so good that they will give Tesla a run for its money and make the Tesla community envious at times. Also, as Elon has implied on Twitter, Chinese EVs are going to become Tesla’s biggest competitors, and the extent of that has not yet become apparent.
However, there is a human-centric story about the customer experience behind all of this incredible technology, and it’s a bigger part of NIO than you know.
NIO Norway, Our Experience
Later in this article, we will give some really cool examples about NIO in China, but first let’s start with what we were able to observe in person. When we were in Norway, to get to the site where NIO was showing off the ES8, there was an hour-long bus ride. Most of the journalists that day were Norwegian, and they chose to go there using their own cars, so the electric bus was fairly empty. The first thing I found interesting was that the NIO representative who was chosen to greet journalists and potential clients was not from the PR department. He was instead an employee from the service division, and on the way there we got to talk at length. He, in fact, used to work for Tesla. According to him, working for NIO was a lot more pleasant and more fun. It seemed like this employee and everyone else on the NIO team who I talked to felt free to give their honest opinions and were incredibly friendly, casual, and genuinely excited in their conversations with all the journalists and potential customers at the event.
In my line of work, I feel like I had never been treated better by a company than I was by NIO. Even though it was not part of NIO’s half-day program, we were allowed to stay longer and properly document the car, as can be seen in the review article and review video. NIO answered all of our technical questions and even shared some information they made us pinky swear not to share prematurely (slight exaggeration there). NIO’s actions enabled us to give you a better, more correct assessment of the vehicle and its capabilities, even if some details remain under wraps. I truly applaud NIO for the way it handled this.
As you will find out in the coming years, the customer service experience is extremely important to NIO, and I would be surprised if a few years from now, NIO’s community didn’t rival that of the various Tesla owners clubs — especially considering how NIO is actively fueling this in China. More about that after the interview.
Here is the most important information that we learned from our interview with Marius Hayler, the general manager of NIO:
Could you maybe talk about the NIO house design we are currently sitting in?
NIO house is something new in the automotive industry, at least for Europe. In China, the whole market already has the NIO house, and we are going to open it in Oslo on September 30th. Here we are currently in a temporary experience center, so this is just a touch & feel preview of how it’s going to look like.
It is so refreshing how open and friendly you are to both the journalists and potential clients you have invited — something that was once the case with Tesla many years ago, but is a charm they have since lost. Could you tell us about this?
Thank you for appreciating that. We try to share as much as possible who we are. I think it is very important for journalists and especially the users so that they get to know us, the people around the brand, and also the brand itself. We have to open up to show what kind of service quality we would like to offer.
Could you also mention how this ties into your autonomy within NIO that you mentioned previously?
NIO Norway was established in March this year, so we are a pretty young company. Then, as for our autonomy, we and our European team have some autonomy from our friends and colleagues in China. We already have the best practices from China, which we are trying to adapt as much as possible into the Norwegian market. So, to answer your question, our autonomy within the company is what will let us make NIO a perfect fit for our users.
So, I am asking this assuming that other European countries will also get a chance to do this: a part of your autonomy from NIO is also allowing you to create the software and features that will make NIO fit well within Norway — like, I don’t know, using local weather apps, program road particularities, voice assistant functions. Can you tell us what you, NIO Norway, are doing to make the car ready for the Norwegian consumer?
For the product itself, we have been doing a pretty good job to make it in a way that will fit 100% for the Norwegian users. Why? Well, for example, NOMI — you could say that she is undergoing a language course right now, so when we launch the car, it is going to be fluent in Norwegian. Or, for example, as you also mentioned the traffic signs — it is very important that the car recognizes Norwegian traffic signs, so everything there is taken care of as well.
And do you think that this strategy will let NIO expand into Europe faster than your other non-European competitors that are trying to enter the market?
This of course we will see, but I think with the quality job that the team is doing and the lessons learned also from launching a new brand in Norway, will help our colleagues in the rest of Europe later on.
So, you already have a partnership with Tidal. I assume you guys are also working on Spotify and YouTube Music. What I was wondering is, will you also have something like YouTube/Netflix? A web browser? An app store?
We will, as you said, already have a pretty nice lineup with apps when we launch, and this is just a start. We will see what will come in the future, but we will not stop here. We will continue developing and new software will become available as over-the-air updates.
So, during your presentation, a journalist asked whether NIO would be willing to share its battery swapping technology with other automakers. Could you repeat your answer for us?
That was a good question and the answer is: yes, NIO is very open to sharing this fantastic battery swapping and battery swapping station technology with other carmakers. I think it’s smart because it could create a standard for the automotive industry, which is again good for the users.
You know when I heard that, I had to think back to a Tesla investor call some years ago, where Elon Musk made a very similar offer to share the Supercharger network so long as other automakers agreed to pay their fair share for the electricity and expansion of the network. Since then, none have taken him up on his offer and I always thought, “Why? It’s such a great offer.” However, now, in comparison, they really should not have accepted that offer — they should accept NIO’s offer because with battery swapping they could get so far ahead.
Haha, yes, you’re right.
But on a different topic, do you think that NIO will build a factory somewhere in Europe for the European consumers?
I don’t have the answer to that, but it might happen because we want to grow.
The Miracle of NIO in China
So, how did NIO build a community within China and how much of it will come to Norway and the rest of Europe? Thanks to our recent NIO coverage, some of our readers and viewers in China have come forth with some very interesting experiences they had with NIO in China, and have claimed that the service is just as excellent as the product.
First and foremost, the NIO app: The main screen isn’t even the car controls. Instead, the first thing you see is a pretty advanced social network of all the NIO users discussing the brand, their car, giving tips and tricks. In addition to giving a like if you found something useful, you can even give them a tip that gives the person NIO points, which we will get to in a minute. By “pretty advanced social network,” we mean that users can leave comments, add each other as friends, chat, create groups of people, and even create their own events.
Under a different tab, the company also shares news with its users. Then, under the next tab, you basically get a NIO guide for all things NIO that you can find or do in the current city you are in — from swapping stations, visiting NIO houses, and their latest new beverages, all the way to events NIO is hosting or sponsoring that you as part of the NIO community can attend.
Then NIO also has all kinds of promotions, whether its a discount on charging at a select location, or maybe a discount on some sort of specific product you could order through NIO, or even the hundreds of accessories you can buy for the car — from all-weather matts to a cute little winter hat or sombrero for the cute little NOMI assistant on the car’s dashboard. That doesn’t even touch the whole range of merchandise the company offers, from t-shirts to suitcases.
Then we get to the dozen services that NIO provides to people in China. The most obvious is the instant customer service in the form of an instant messaging chat where you can drop a message and get a response from NIO. Though, I think my favorite example is the designated driver service where, if your visit to the bar with friends resulted in more than the “only one beer” you said you would have, you can use your NIO points to have a person come to you and drive you home in your own car. If NIO is going to offer this kind of service outside China, I am certain it would be an enormous hit in many countries in Europe and especially in the US, where public transportation is underdeveloped. Tesla’s legal hands off self-driving functionality is still a few years off, yet NIO has found a very creative human-centric solution to part of this problem.
Then some of you might have already heard of NIO Power, a service where an electric van will come to you to charge your car wherever you are — like, for example, if you are stuck at work all day with a nearly depleted battery right before you go on a long trip. However, it now turns out that NIO has more services like this, from getting the car washed while you are away, to having the car picked up and a scratch on the door repainted in the service center before the car is returned to you, all in a day’s work when the car would have been sitting idle. There is even a service where you can easily park in an easy-to-access parking spot at the airport and have NIO repark your car in the more secure and cheaper long-term parking.
Then, whereas Tesla’s most reliable feedback system is Elon Musk occasionally responding to tweets he comes across, NIO has a feature for that in the app — because NIO is very feedback oriented, something we have already witnessed in Norway in-person. Though, this all does bring up an important question — how many of these services are actually viable outside of China where the minimum wage is significantly higher? Hopefully we will find out more on October 1st when NIO launches the car and the NIO House.
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