Tesla, Nio and other EV makers seek to build Apple-like brand loyalty among fans

·4-min read

Electric-vehicle maker Tesla and its Chinese rivals like Nio and Xpeng are seeking to emulate Apple’s ability to attract loyal fans to build their brand power.

If they can pull it off, they will have created powerful machines that will be able to sell a host of products alongside smart cars. Hours after California-based Elon Musk’s Tesla offered its first liquor, Teslaquila, at US$250 a bottle on its website last November, its fans bought all of the available stock.

“EV makers are eyeing a lifelong consumption habit. They make money not only on the car you buy, but the follow-up service, the lifestyle they branded and the next and next Tesla or Nio you buy,” said Leo Li, a partner and head of automotive, manufacturing and industrial products, Greater China at consultancy Oliver Wyman. “They are selling an identity like an iPhone user or a New Yorker reader.”

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Nio and Xpeng are busy building online communities where car users can earn points by posting Instagram-like stories, attend cultural events and use credit to buy products.

Wang Liang, who bought a Nio ES8 three years ago, recently went to Shanghai Autoshow as a Nio’s ambassador when his points topped the rankings among Nio’s users.

The 30-year-old finance professional earned points by posting in Nio’s app about his daily life. Other Nio users can “like”, comment on his posts, chat and share tips about using company products – and buy more Nio branded items.

“If I am not looking for any particular brand, I will not open [Chinese e-commerce sites] Taobao or JD.com. I will just stay on Nio’s app since I have already opened it to drive the car,” said the 30-year-old financial professional, who has spent anywhere between a couple hundred to thousands of yuan a week on Nio’s products, such as sports gear to groceries. “It is cheaper as I can use my points earned from other activities as credit.”

Swiss bank UBS expects China to sell 6.6 million electric cars in 2025, about 25 per cent of all new cars, rising to 18 million, or 60 per cent, by 2030.

In China, Tesla is the runaway leader in the premium EV segment, while three home-grown start-ups – NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto – are ramping up new model development to build next-generation smart cars that can compete against the US carmaker’s blockbuster Model 3 and Model Y vehicles.

A raft of technology behemoths such as Huawei Technologies Co., Xiaomi and Tencent Holdings have also hopped onto the smart car bandwagon, fuelling competition.

“Currently Nio is apparently ahead of the game [in building a community in China], we will see more EV makers putting effort into creating the community,” Li added.

Nio had sold more than 3 million products on its app and had 1.6 million Nio app members as of December. It had 168,000 daily active users on peak days last year, according to Nio’s latest annual report.

“We will have our own projector, mini-refrigerator … that can fit our to-be-launched P5 and our car users can buy them through our app and it can also increase the stickiness among our users,” said Brian Gu, president of Xpeng, told the Post.

Tesla rival Xpeng sees sales soar as Chinese motorists go electric

Ethan Qin, a designer, bought his Tesla model X four years ago and is now a collector of Tesla’s stuff, from mugs, umbrella to T-shirts.

Qin’s favourite Tesla T-shirt is white with “Made on Earth By Humans” printed on the front, which was also the slogan on the circuit board of the Tesla Roadster that was launched into space on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

“It shows my attitude to life, embracing the future and a sustainable world, ” said the 40-year-old designer. “I am proud to be referred to as a “Tesla user” as it can totally show my taste on every little thing as a designer myself.”

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