NIO’s China-only electric SUV will cost half as much as a Tesla Model X

Posted 19 December 2017

Chinese automaker NIO (formerly NextEV) officially launched its first true production car, an all-electric dual-motor SUV called the ES8, over the weekend. The car debuted in concept form earlier this year at the Shanghai Motor Show, but NIO finally shared the key details about the car like price and range. The ES8, which will go into production next year, starts at 448,000 Chinese yuan ($68,000 USD), and the base model will have a range of 355 kilometers (about 220 miles).

That price is about half of what Tesla’s Model X retails for in China, and that’s before subsidies and incentives that can bring down the cost of the ES8 by at least another $6,600. While Tesla has sold its cars in China for a few years, they aren’t eligible for these incentives and subsidies because they’re imported. The California EV company has been trying to get around these restrictions, which were put in place by the Chinese government in order to promote its own companies. It was recently reported that Tesla has reached an agreement to build a factory in China, while other automakers have formed partnerships with existing Chinese manufacturers in order to tap into the large market.

The production ES8 is full of features expected on a modern SUV. The body and chassis, both of which are all-aluminum, ride on an active air suspension. The interior is roomy and the seven seats are adorned with leather. There’s a heads-up display on the windshield, and a wireless charging pad in the center console.

The ES8 has two motors — one for each axle — that, combined, put out 480kW of power (or about 644 horsepower). That will get the ES8 from 0–100 kilometers per hour in about 4.4 seconds, according to NIO.

The ES8 will also have an advanced driver assistance system, called NIO Pilot. It’s powered by Mobileye’s EyeQ4 chip — the one that the Israeli company was developing when it split with Tesla in 2016 — which will lean on a suite of five cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and five radars. This will endow the car with features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection. More will be available over time, thanks to over-the-air updates from NIO.

NIO is also putting some new ideas into the ES8. There’s an AI assistant in the car called NOMI, which uses in-car and cloud computing to “turn the ES8 into a fun, expressive, and intuitive companion that can listen, talk, and help drivers along the way.” And the company’s developed a quick battery-swapping system that can change out the ES8’s 70kWh power pack in just three minutes. NIO says it will build 1,100 battery-swapping stations around the country by 2020, presumably to help with long haul trips.

Buyers can also opt for a subscription service on the battery, which includes “battery upgrading services, along with quality assurance, roadside assistance, car connectivity, and nationwide charging services,” according to the company. NIO will also offer home charging, as well as concierge charging that can add 100 kilometers of range in 10 minutes.

NIO launched the production ES8 in an arena full of thousands of fans. It’s a relatively new company, having only gotten started in 2014. But it’s garnered quick recognition for developing the EP9, a fast and flashy all-electric sports car, and competing in the EV racing series Formula E. The company, which is financially backed by Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Baidurecently closed a $1 billion round of funding, and is reportedly considering a public listing in the US before bringing its all-electric vehicles Stateside in 2020.

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