Will China’s Nio ES8 give Tesla a run for its money?

 

China, we know, is trying to electrify its roads, and automakers like Tesla have been trying to make inroads into the country to take advantage of the Chinese cash cow. Tesla cars are imported, hence are not eligible for incentives and subsidiaries, but recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the rockstar electric carmaker has come to an agreement with the Shanghai government to build—and own—its own factory in the city’s free-trade zone.

But even as Chinese officials are starting to relax the rules to encourage electric vehicle adoption in the country and Tesla is benefitting from it, the American marque is facing more and more competition. Other foreign automakers have entered conventional partnership with local companies to get their foot in the heavy Chinese door, like Ford with Zotye, and Volkswagen with Anhui Jianghui, amongst others.

Then there are local competitors, who have the advantage of home ground and producing cheaper alternatives. Much cheaper. The latest of them is almost half price of a Model X, but offers impressive specs. The all-electric Nio ES8 is an AWD seven seater launched in China last month, at the starting price of 448,000 Yuan (US$68,000). And that’s before subsidies and incentives, which will drive down the price further.

 

The ES8’s body and chassis is fully aluminium, supported by active air suspension. There is one motor for each axle, which puts out a combined 480kW or about 645hp. This propels the SUV from zero to 100kph in 4.4 seconds (the Model X does it in 2.9 seconds, though).

It comes ready to provide autonomous driving features. The driver assistance system is called NIO Pilot, with a Mobileye’s EyeQ4 chip as its brain. (Mobileye is, by the way, the company that parted ways with Tesla back in 2016, and it wasn’t very amicable.) NIO Pilot is supported by 23 sensors that comprises cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors. That said, we don’t know yet how these will be used, but we assume that these means the car will at least come with all the collision prediction and prevention abilities that other semi-autonomous cars are already capable of now. There will also be an intelligent infotainment system called NOMI, which the driver can simply talk to to access its features.

Hello, Nomi.

 

The range of the ES8 leaves us wanting, though, if compared to Tesla’s electric SUV. Its 70kWh battery offers a range of 221 miles, but the Model X can go up to 352 miles on a charge. Still, Nio promises a fast charge with its batteries—only 10 minutes to get 62 miles out of it. It also promises battery-swapping stations—1,100 of them by 2020—a method that Tesla touted before favouring supercharging stations.

And to allay any vestige of range anxiety that might still linger, it will also deploy 1,200 charging vehicles that will come to you to charge the car wherever it might have run out of juice. Now, that’s an idea.

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