Flashback: NIO Day 2017

Four years ago today (December 16, 2017), NIO held its first ever NIO Day in Beijing.

Since then, the event has become an annual tradition, celebration and gathering of management, investors, suppliers, partners, owners, and fans to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future, and a venue where new products, technologies and business models are announced. NIO has held the annual event in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu successively over the last three years, launching the ES6, EC6 and ET7, respectively at those events. NIO Day 2021, which will be held in Suzhou and unveil the much-anticipated ET5 sedan, is just two days away.

I attended NIO Day 2017. The first of these NIO Days is always the most memorable and special. Below is a flashback of my report of the event that night held at Beijing’s Cadillac Arena. The original report appeared in the January 2018 issue of China Automotive Review (Vol. 13, № 1) while I was still chief editor:

NIO day, NIO beginning: ES8 looks to outsmart competition with new user experiences

BEIJING — A NIO Day, a NIO beginning and a NIO chapter in the 131-year-old history of the auto industry.

The ES8 7-seater high performance electric SUV hit the market tonight after much anticipation at an extravagant show put up by smart EV startup NIO at, well, a house that another car brand “built”: Beijing’s Cadillac Center or known to the locals as the Wukesong Sports Arena.

Imagine Dragons, Grammy Awards winner in Best Rock Performance, performed several of their hit songs live to a crowd of 10,000 strong, roughly half of which are “owners” who have already pre-ordered the ES8, some of whom include CEOs of leading Chinese tech and investment companies such as Li Xiang, founder of autohome.com and another smart EV startup — CHJ Automotive, and №082 owner of the ES8 built by a company he himself invested.

The performance came after a 70-minute presentation by NIO Founder, Chairman and CEO William Li, who announced the pricing of the SUV after presenting key safety, connectivity, comfort, autonomous driving, charging and service features of the vehicle he is promoting as a “mobile living space.”

The pricing itself was a surprise, lower than what many had expected. The ES8 will have a base version price of ¥448,000 before subsidies and a special top of the line “Founding” edition priced at ¥548,000 for the first 10,000 people who place orders (you can do so starting today on NIO’s own App). These prices go down to ¥375,400 and ¥475,400 respectively (in Beijing) after current national and local subsidies.

But here’s one of the surprises Li unveiled: through a battery rental model, the retail prices for the two versions go down by ¥100,000 each to ¥348,000 and ¥448,000 respectively, which means actual purchase prices using Beijing as an example go down to ¥275,400 and ¥375,400, respectively. The only catch is owners pay a monthly battery rental fee of ¥1,280.

The battery rental pricing model is part of NIO Power, a new charging service model using a unique battery swap option (reportedly with over 100 patents) that takes just three-minutes to complete. Each of the battery swap stations takes up roughly the space of three ES8s and NIO plans to build 1,100 of these stations three-km apart across China by 2020.

Li showed on stage a live demonstration of the battery swapping function that took just under 2 minutes and 57 seconds, less than 3 minutes as promised.

Another surprising charging option is Power Mobile (Li calls it a secret weapon to take care of range anxiety) — a service that will involve 1,100 electricity “delivery” vans by 2020 that will roam the streets ready to “rescue” any ES8 that need to be “juiced up.” These vehicles acting like huge mobile power battery packs, are capable of replenishing ES8’s range to 100 km in just 10 minutes.

NIO will also offer traditional charging options with either a free home charger for those that have the convenience as well as free charging at charging stations across China — 42,000 compatible charging poles by March 2018 and more than 110,000 by 2020.

“We want to make charging even simpler and more convenient than filling up gasoline,” said Li. “And anywhere a traditional gasoline vehicle can go, the ES8 will be able to go as well.”

ES8 owners will enjoy lifetime free anywhere charging across China, as well as lifetime free warranty, connectivity, and roadside assistance.

Another surprise is the NIO Pilot featuring what it claims as the most advanced autonomous driving capabilities available on a mass production vehicle, even more advanced than what is offered by the latest Audi A8 with Level 3 autonomous driving. The NIO Pilot is equipped with a trifocal front facing camera, four surround exterior cameras, five millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors and one driver monitoring camera. And surprise again: it is the first production vehicle in the world to feature Mobileye’s EyeQ4.

The NOMI (as in know me) artificial intelligence companion — a “talking” robot at the center of the front stack sitting right below the front windscreen, offers voice communication and interaction with drivers and passengers, and can take selfies when needed.

NIO also announced that it has teamed up with JD.com and SF Express, China’s leading online e-commerce shopping site and express delivery company, respectively, to offer express delivery to the ES8. The service can be done within JD.com’s App and owners can give a one-time virtual key to the delivery person who will be able to open the back door to place articles in the trunk.

Owners will be able to pretty much do everything within NIO’s smart phone App including ordering the vehicle, servicing, and communicating with the company and other owners, forming what NIO calls an owner ecosystem.

Key specs of the ES8 are pretty out of this world: a driving range of 500 km (355 km under NEDC), 0–100 km/h acceleration time of just 4.4 seconds, and a braking distance of 33.8 m from 100–0 km/h, less than the 38-m LED screen that was used at the launch event. The ES8 has gone through more than 3 million km of testing with 485 prototype vehicles on four continents. The vehicle has an exterior length of more than 5 meters, width of nearly 2 meters and a wheelbase of over 3 meters. It is equipped with a high-performance electric drive system, Continental’s active air suspension system, smart battery sensor, brake hose, multi-function smartphone charging terminal (via NFC charging), tire monitor system, BHSG interior engine suspension system, and ContiSportContactTM5 tires. Its iBooster comes from Bosch and performance brakes are supplied by Brembo. Its VDA battery cell offers three times the performance of 18650 battery cell, and the vehicle has a coefficient drag of just 0.29. It has dual motors on both the front and back wheels offering maximum power of 480 kW (650 hp) and peak torque of 840 Nm. The vehicle weighs about 2.5 tons.

Comfort wise, the ES8 features what’s called a “Queen’s seat” for the front passenger side seat that can have extended leg support and a retractable foot rest. When fully reclined, it also goes into what’s called a “parent-child” mode, helping the person sitting in the seat easily interact with people sitting in the back seat especially Children who need to be attended to.

“This is a car that offers the space and comfort of an international business class (for the passenger side seating),” quipped Li. “We are going to make it a mobile living space.”

Owners and the public will also enjoy NIO’s offline living space — NIO House, which has opened in Beijing recently and will gradually open in 10 more cities across China including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, etc.

The ES8 comes to market eight months after its debut at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show in April and a little more than three years (1,117 days to be exact) after the Chinese company was founded on November 25, 2014.

Fast and furious by any standard.

NIO is currently valued at about $5 billion after it reportedly received its latest round of financing of about $1 billion in early November led by founding investor and Chinese technology company Tencent as well as individual investors including Li Xiang, Liu Qiangdong of JD.com, venture capital firms Hillhouse Capital and Sequoia Capital.

So here they are, the NIO surprises from the ES8. Does it make you a “Believer” (title of one of the popular songs performed by Imagine Dragons) and will they convince the nearly 10,000 “early adopters” to actually purchase the vehicle?

So far the initial response from the industry has been positive but one slight turnoff for me was the use of diesel vans (reportedly) from SAIC-Maxus as mobile power stations. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of going green if it only wants to solve the issue of range anxiety? Details are also mum on battery rental model as far as insurance and what happens when something goes wrong with the battery. It will also be a major challenge to ensure the quality of all the latest technologies and advanced components offered on the ES8 are durable and dependable because many of them were never used on another production vehicle.

A new day, a new beginning. It’s exactly that for NIO. The toughest part will be, as Li mentioned recently at an industry forum, how best to satisfy and serve Chinese customers.

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Former Chief Editor @ChinaAutoReview, China auto/EV/AV/mobility expert. Co-host of the China EVs & More Podcast

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Lei Xing

Lei Xing

Former Chief Editor @ChinaAutoReview, China auto/EV/AV/mobility expert. Co-host of the China EVs & More Podcast

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