Chinese premium EV maker Nio will next year launch a new entry-level brand for mass-market vehicles, focused on the European market.
The Nio Group is working on two projects – Alps and Firefly – for two affordable standalone brands. Both are working titles, with final brand names yet to be decided.
Project Firefly is focused on developing a new brand for European-focused entry level cars, with a reported target price of around £23,500, which would likely pitch it against the likes of the forthcoming Volkswagen ID 2.
“In Europe, there’s definitely a higher demand for smaller vehicles [than in China],” said Nio CEO William Li.
Nio will launch its first European-focused model, an estate version of the ET5 saloon, later this year, but that brand’s premium focus means it's unlikely to expand into compact cars.
Nio president Lihong Qin said the new brands would “start from Europe and then expand into other markets, including China”.
He added: “For compact cars, the proportion of the battery cost will be bigger than a battery pace in another car. But this challenge is universal; it’s not only for Nio. Other compact models in Europe are facing a similar challenge.
“This is all about competition, and competition is always relative. If we can outplay somehow in the product feature and with what Nio stands for, with our Power Grid and other services, if the overall experience we can provide for future European users is better in some areas, then we can establish our competitiveness, then we can get our fair share.”
The Firefly and Alps EVs would both feature Nio’s battery-swap technology, which allows users to replace the battery in less than five minutes at special stations in place of charging. But because the vehicles will be smaller, they will be unable to use the Nio Swap Stations, requiring a separate network to be built.
Li hinted that the decreasing cost of batteries and new cell technology would help the firm to be able to manufacture compact cars more profitably, also noting they would require smaller batteries than Nio’s current premium models. The use of battery-swap technology could also be used to drive down pricing.
Another key will be keeping production costs down, and while the Firefly models will be designed for the European market, they will be manufactured in China, reportedly at a factory in Anhui province.
Models for the Alps brand, which will reportedly be pitched to a price point between Firefly and Nio, will also be produced at the facility. That will help to achieve greater economies of scale and suggests that the two brands will likely share powertrain, platform and battery tech.
Nio has a partnership with JAC for production of its Nio-branded cars, and it would likely strike a similar manufacturing deal for the new brands.
Li said he retained a long-term goal of localising production in regions such as Europe and the US but would only do so when Nio had reached sufficient volume – and would be open to working with production partners in those markets.
Nio is also seeking partners to use its battery-swap technology but has yet to find any takers. Li noted that it was a challenge in the premium market, because other manufacturers would have to design their cars around Nio’s battery packs.
Meanwhile, Li said that the firm is still finalising its plans for an entry into the UK market, which is likely to happen next year. He acknowledged that the challenges of expanding into the region were greater than expected but said he was prepared to be patient, with a focus on building brand awareness and establishing Nio's position to ensure that it has a sustainable long-term future.