Tesla has made Elon Musk the richest man in the world after it was added to the S&P 500 index, causing shares in the company to rise by 13%. But Tesla isn’t the only electric car company seeing its stocks surge dramatically this year.
Chinese startup car manufacturer NIO is a relatively young electric vehicle (EV) company from Shanghai. Founded in 2014 by serial entrepreneur William Li, it is one of several Chinese companies racing to become a leader in the design and manufacture of EVs. NIO’s cars are, for the most part, well made and large battery-powered SUVs – exactly the kind of vehicle that Chinese buyers love.
With this rise in share price value, NIO could be seen as taking steps in the direction of Tesla. Sudden and extreme shifts in stock prices come with the territory of new technology firms. But the company has two key differences from its competitors that it hopes will set it apart. It also has challenges to overcome. And in both cases, it can learn from Tesla.
NIO ES6 specifications
A significant update for 2020 has seen the NIO ES6 get an updated chassis courtesy of engineers in the UK, with over 96% of it now made from aluminum to help reduce weight and improve torsional rigidity for better safety and handling.
Complete with a 100kWh battery pack, the four-wheel-drive ES6 can do 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds courtesy of dual electric motors that total 537bhp. NIO states an NEDC-calculated driving range of up to 360 miles for the car, but the NEDC test is no longer used, so by the standards of the more realistic WLTP testing now employed in Europe, the ES8 would likely have a range of roughly 300 miles.
A full charge from a standard 7kW home wall box would take some 16 hours for a full charge, while in China those with access to one of 80 battery-swap stations can get a full battery in just three minutes.
The ES6 is predictably spacious, and the 2020 update has seen interior cubbies improved; there are now 24 different storage areas in the cabin, with a total of 1,900 liters of space with the rearmost seats folded.
The middle seats also offer foot support that can be extended as the seat reclines for a full executive experience, while the front passenger seat glides backward to give access to children in the middle seats while the car is on the move.
The tech features of the car center around the 11.3-inch touchscreen, which can also be controlled using a small rotary controller. A configurable digital driver’s readout finishes the high-tech look and a head-up display also gives further essential information.
In China, the freshly updated NIO ES6 starts from around £54,000, with prices for the top-spec Signature Edition coming in at around £10,000 more.
PROS OF THE NIO ES6:
- The NIO ES6 is big. Especially the passenger seat can go all the way backward and I’m sure I could sleep comfortably in it if I had to. The backseat is big enough for three people. I can fold the backseat down and put my off-road bicycle into the car.
- The interior is pretty and the dashboard is great. The screen is big, but the navigation also shows next to the speed dials. My Mandarin isn’t flawless but I can command the navigation to a place, or ask the car to open up the hotspot, ask it to play a specific song, etcetera. I can also change some things without looking on the steering wheel, such as cruise control, volume, or
- next song. Inside the settings, I can also look at stuff like the tire pressures in the wheels.
- The cameras around the car work well. Parking in tight places is really easy. On the screen, the NIO ES6 will be shown from a top-down view, and you can see how much space you have left all around it. On the highway, there’s a subtle orange light that lights up in the mirrors if there’s a car in the dead-angle.
- The NIO app is like a social media network, although I doubt many people use it that way. You can remotely see how much battery your ES6 has left, and also use the app to open or lock the doors (if you forgot your keys). A nice feature is to remotely activate the air conditioner, so the car is cool when you arrive.
- The ES6 comes with a 400-kilometer range, although it’s closer to 250-300. There are three options to charge:
- Slow-charging on the normal power plug: I used this for a weekend trip, which was 3 hours drive to a house in the mountains, which depleted the battery. Then it needed two days charging for the trip home.
- Fast-charging: There are official Nio fast-charging spots, as well as third-party ones. 30 to 40 minutes will do. Convenient.
- Battery swap: There are dozens of battery-swap stations in Shanghai and one or two in Suzhou. Once you arrive at the location, you reserve the swap on your app and when it’s your turn an operator gets in your car, reverses it into the station, and there the car is lifted. Within a few minutes, a new full battery is put into the car, which is an amazing technology that feels like science-fiction.
- · A fourth option is when you run out of electricity. Nio will send a car to charge the car wherever it’s stranded. I never
- had to use this, but once I was on 2 kilometers left with 5 kilometers still to drive to the charging place. I called Nio if there was some safety margin, and they said I could easily do another 5 kilometers when it reached 0, so I got there safely.
- · Nio House: Buying a Nio is getting into a club. You get an app and you can open the Nio House with it. There’s a Nio House in Suzhou’s famous Dongfangzhimen building, with merchandise, tea and coffee, and sometimes events, like free noodles, or painting workshops. There’s also a play area for children, given how the ES6 is often used as a family car. In Shanghai, there’s an NIO House on the ground floor of the Shanghai Tower, the highest building in China. There’s no charging in these places, but there is in NIO Houses next to highways. My go-to one, next to the highway to Shanghai, has cable-charging and battery swaps — as well as toilets, merchandise, drinks, and a play area for kids.
CON’S OF THE NIO ES6
- Nio is so keen to promote the battery swaps, saying how it gives you 400 kilometers in 3 minutes, so when you purchase one of their cars, you also buy that future promise. Then it’s a bit of a downer that often there are big queues for it in Suzhou. Sometimes there are 6 cars ahead, while the station only has 6 batteries — which needs charging to be used again. Sometimes the operator will ask you: “I have a battery ready that is on 80%, do you want that or do you want to wait for a full one?”, then depending on the trip I’m doing to make, 80% may be enough. But a few times I’ve spent over an hour waiting for a full battery, and at the busiest times, even the cable-charging places were occupied. When a battery swap takes 5 minutes it’s amazing, but half of the time NIO cannot yet live up to its promises due to its popularity.
- It’s still lacking a bit of leg space for the driver seat. Mind you, I’m over 1.9 meters tall, but ideally, I could put the driver seat back just a little bit more to have my legs comfortable. But it’s very hard to buy a car in China that suits my height anyway.
- The only problem with the built-quality I had once was the passenger seat, for a moment it could only be moved backward (electrically) and not forward. But then the next day it worked again, hm.
- The brake pedal is a tiny bit weird, it feels non-linear. Especially in the beginning, I had trouble stopping the car smoothly at a traffic light. I only mean the last bit of braking, from 2 km/h to a standstill, where I want to scrub off the last bit of speed smoothly. Then the last bit of braking goes non-linear and it stops a little bit too quick. Nothing serious.
- The seat (of the driver) goes forward every time you open the door. I guess it helps shorter people to exit the vehicle, but for me, it’s super annoying, because the seat is already on maximum backward, and when it goes forward it cramps my legs under the steering wheel. Yet every-time I open the door it goes forward and I need to interrupt it by pressing the button on the side to go back again.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE NIO ES6
When spoken to other Nio owners. Some considered buying a Tesla S as well. The fact that Tesla is American didn’t matter to them. Some just found the S too small, or the interior too ugly. Some also considered that Tesla had no battery swap. Most NIO owners are pretty young, in the late 20s to late 30s, sometimes a bit older.
But the NIO ES6 itself is a beautiful electrical SUV, with lots of space and great handling. It makes you feel safe inside, and dare I say it, it also makes you feel a bit smart and cool, driving it.
This shows sustainable growth is possible for an electric vehicle firm. NIO has the backing of the second-biggest economy in the world with enough potential customers in China to never need to expand anywhere else. So if the company can make its business model work and overcome the manufacturing challenge, then it could show its recent share surge is more than just volatile hype for a shiny new tech firm.