Chinese Tesla rival NIO targets Europe with its smart EVs as it takes a first step towards going global

Daniel Ren
·3-min read

Chinese Tesla rival NIO will begin delivering its smart electric vehicles (EVs) to European customers as early as next month, taking a first step towards going global amid an escalation of competition at home.

Qin Lihong, co-founder and president of the EV start-up, told reporters at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show that a sales team focusing on the European market had been established and a detailed plan about its expansion into the market would be announced in early May.

“We want to be part of the business community in Europe,” he said. “Selling some of our vehicles to make some money is not our ultimate goal.”

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He added that NIO had no immediate plan to set up production facilities in Europe.

Norway looks set to be the first market that NIO will explore outside mainland China, with a showroom in the northern European nation expected to open in September, according to local media outlet Bilbransje24, which cited Marius Hayler, the chief executive of NIO Norway.

Shanghai-based NIO is following in the footsteps of its domestic rival Xpeng Motors in tapping the European market as they find themselves largely eclipsed by global leader Tesla at home.

Guangzhou-headquartered Xpeng handed over 100 G3 smart SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) to buyers in Norway at the end of 2020, the first time Chinese-made smart EVs had been directly delivered to individual customers in Europe.

In 2019 Aiways, another Chinese electric car maker, became the first mainland company to export smart SUVs to Europe.

The company delivered 500 of its U5 vehicles to Hertz Corse, a car rental firm in Corsica, Italy.

NIO and Xpeng, both of which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and Li Auto, which is traded on the Nasdaq, are dubbed Chinese Tesla challengers and build smart EVs using technology that enhances navigation, improves in-car entertainment and links up with other cars or mobile devices digitally.

“[The EV start-ups] just began to explore market potential overseas, and the international sales will represent only a small portion of their total sales volume,” said Gao Shen, an independent analyst in Shanghai.

“But the go-global strategy has been planned by the start-up for a long time because they had ambitions of becoming international players in the EV industry.”

None of the start-ups have been profitable and they are racing to fine-tune production, churn out new models and increase sales to secure a foothold in China, the world’s largest EV market.

Norway is the world leader in terms of EV adoption and sales penetration. In 2020, about 75 per cent of new cars sold in the Scandinavian country were electric.

In March, Tesla delivered 35,478 vehicles made at its Shanghai Gigafactory 3, more than double the total 17,259 units delivered by the three Chinese rivals.

China reported sales of 1.17 million new-energy vehicles – comprising pure electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell cars – in 2020, up 12 per cent from the previous year.

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