Chinese electric-car start-up Nio seeks IPO even as Musk plans to take Tesla private

Sarah Dai
Chinese electric-car start-up Nio seeks IPO even as Musk plans to take Tesla private

NIO, the electric vehicle start-up backed by Tencent Holdings, is seeking to be the first Chinese carmaker to list in the US, at a time when Elon Musk-led Tesla Inc. is seeking to go private.

The Shanghai-based company, which is seeking a US$1.8 billion IPO, disclosed a US$502.6 million net loss in the first half of this year in a regulatory filing made public on Monday. Nio had revenues of less than US$7 million as it ramps up production and sales of its first vehicles.

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As of the end of July, NIO had delivered 481 ES8s, the company’s first production model launched in December. The company is still fulfilling more than 17,000 reservations, of which 12,000 were reserved with an initial refundable deposit of 5,000 yuan (US$725).

The 7-seater high-performance sports vehicle has a base price of 448,000 yuan before subsidies, or about half the price of a Tesla Model X after import duties are added, and comes with a driver-help system featuring highway pilot, traffic jam pilot and automatic emergency braking.

Founded in 2014, NIO counts Tencent as its biggest institutional investor, with a 15.2 per cent stake, followed by Hillhouse Capital’s 7.5 per cent. Other investors include Baidu Capital, Shunwei Capital, a venture capital co-founded by Xiaomi founder Lei Jun, and Baillie Gifford. Nio’s founder and chairman William Li Bin holds a 17.2 per cent stake.

Nio’s IPO would also come at a time when billionaire Elon Musk is planning to take Tesla private. Musk announced on his Twitter account last week that he will take Tesla private so that the carmaker can “operate at its best, free from as much distraction and short-term thinking as possible.” Musk said late Monday that he is getting advice from Goldman Sachs and private-equity firm Silver Lake for the possible transaction.

The four-year-old start-up is among a rising wave of “Tesla challengers”, which include fledgling carmakers such as Byton, WM Motor and Xpeng. They are in a race to rival Tesla with smart electric vehicles that feature internet connectivity and new technologies, and convince Chinese consumers they understand their tastes and needs better than foreign carmakers.

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Sales of so-called new-energy vehicles surged in China from 21,800 units in 2013 to 741,900 in 2017, according to Frost & Sullivan data cited by NIO. China is expected to continue to lead the world’s growth, reaching 3.6 million units in 2022.

The competition will be stiff, the company noted in its filing.

“We have strategically entered into this market in the premium EV segment and we expect this segment will become more competitive in the future,” the company said. “Many of our current and potential competitors, particularly international competitors, have significantly greater financial, technical, manufacturing, marketing and other resources than we do.”

NIO expects to launch a second model, the ES6, by the end of this year, targeting a broader customer base with a lower price. Initial deliveries for this model are expected to start in the first half of 2019.

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