William Li has just accomplished something that Jia Yueting was not able to do: actually putting a smart EV out on to the market, rather than just touting about it on PPT slides.
It is difficult not to put the two into comparison side by side: Li is the founder and chairman of smart EV startup NIO, while Jia is the founder and chairman of LeEco, often dubbed as “Netflix of China” and parent company of LeSEE, a super smart EV endeavor that never came to fruition.
While Jia is still looking for money for his other smart EV “baby” Faraday Future (unconfirmed reports say that it recently received an investment commitment of $1 billion), and getting pummeled by Chinese securities regulatory authorities over his improper handling of LeEco’s business practices, Li launched his company’s ES8 smart electric SUV on December 16 with great fanfare at the same venue where Jia shed tears one and a half years ago when he unveiled the prototype of the LeSEE Super Car. NIO reportedly spent upwards of ¥80 million for the launch event, chartering several flights and reserving entire hotels in Beijing for several thousands of fans who had “pre-ordered” the ES8.
The ES8 did not disappoint: not only did it come with the latest tech features not seen on any previous production vehicle, it also came with a lot of surprises as far as offering convenient and hassle free ownership experiences is concerned. (See NIO day, NIO beginning: ES8 looks to outsmart competition with new user experiences.)
The biggest and probably the most talked-about surprise is the three-minute battery swapping model, a live demonstration of which was shown on stage at the launch event. The entire process went as planned, finishing in just under 3 minutes as promised.
As an additional solution to take care of range anxiety, Li is bringing back the battery swapping model from its ashes – the infamous Israeli startup Better Place that failed to take this model to mass commercialization still resonates in the industry. While NIO has tried to perfect the swapping technology with several new patented features making the process faster and safer, can it convince potential owners to trust this model and how will it balance the strategic layout of these swapping stations along with compatible super charging stations it is also trying to build?
These are just some of the many questions that Li and his team still need to answer before delivery of the ES8 begins in mid-2018. After all, Li’s goal is trying to bring back experience of owning a vehicle as a major selling point for the ES8, as he repeatedly said in his speech at the launch event.
Li has taken the baton from Jia in the “internet car making” era by actually launching a product to market. Now the challenge for Li and NIO is to deliver the rest as promised.