Chinese auto startup NIO has launched its first vehicle, an all electric SUV–the ES8, as a direct competitor to Tesla Model X at nearly half the price. The seven-seater all-wheel drive packs a punch with its electric motor, styled smartly and full of advanced tech features. The downside is that for now, it is only available for sale in China.
The price for the ES8 in China starts at 548,000 yuan (Rs 43.4 lakh) going up to the premium models as compared to the Tesla Model X whose starting price is 836,000 yuan (Rs 81 lakh). The car is also being offered at a battery rental plan which offers a discount of 100,000 yuan on the price of the vehicle making the starting price effectively 448,000 yuan.
Despite being much cheaper than its US-based rival, the NIO ES8 looks a formidable opponent against the the Model X. It’s a large, all-wheel drive seven seater that accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Though it is styled smartly and the overall package appears enticing, it still has a few downsides, though it seems if the company focuses on efficient aftersale services, it can become a sought after name among customers.
The car is equipped with ‘NIO Pilot’ and the company describes it as a “comprehensive advanced driver assistance system”. A Mobileye EyeQ4 chip is at the heart of the control unit. The car boasts 23 sensors that include onboard cameras, radar sensors and ultrasonic sensors. Whether that actually contributes to autonomous driving is yet unclear. The ES8 is the first vehicle to have the Mobileye EyeQ4 chip. It has as much as eight-times the computation capacity than any of the previous ECU chips.
The interiors are fitted with a standalone AI system called the NOMI which is an AI-powered infotainment system. NOMI’s emotion engine can “listen, talk and help drivers along the way” and act as a companion to the driver.
Range and charge
The baterry pack comprices liquid-cooled VDA square cell batteries. These are the highest density cells available anywhere for the commercial market. The styling of the car is aerodynamically efficient and that is proven by the fact that its aerodynamic coefficient is a meagre 0.29, for an SUV that is impressive.
At full charge, the NIO ES8, the company claims, goes 355 km on the NEDC range powered by the car’s 70 kWh battery. The Model X literally goes miles ahead with its range of 565 km on a single full charge.
NIO’s solution to the problem is fast charge. The startup claims its cars get nearly 100 km driving range in 10 minutes of charging. To speed up the process, it even plans to open up battery swapping stations. These stations will basically serve as exchange stations where an ES8 owner can replace their car’s battery pack with a new charged pack in a matter of three minutes.
This is probably the flagship feature in the ES8 when compared to all other electric cars on the battery department. Even the Tesla supercharge is not as fast as the three-minute batter swap trick.
Even if you are stranded, NIO is offering the rescue service where it will send Power Mobile vehicles that are basically mobile charging stations to charge your ES8. By 2020, NIO plans to open up 1,100 swap stations and roll out around 1,200 power mobile vehicles into operation.
Drive and build
The car’s chassis is built from aerospace grade 7003 series aluminium alloy that gives it a torsional stiffness of 44,100 Nm/Deg. ES8 can also boast to have the highest amount of aluminium in a single unit for any mass production car available on the market.
Power and performance
The electric motors mounted at the front and back produce 480 kW of power and a peak torque of 840 Nm. The car’s E-powertrain is actively controlled by the ECU. The company founded by Shanghai-based NextEV rolled out the car with specs and finishes at par with the Model X. The car is fitted with an air suspension for a comfortable drive and electric motors mounted on all wheels offer a powerful drive experience.
The car boasts Brembo brakes that bring that car to standstill from 100 km/h over a distance of 111 feet.
The ES8 comes with 21 passive safety features and the company claims it completed three million kms of road tests before delivering the fist unit to a customer.
The car has a three-row seven seat layout and is quite spacious. It comes with lounge seats featuring child supports as well. The upholstery is done up in Nappa leather wraps. It also includes a smart air filtration system that features an activated carbon and HEPA filter as well as a negative ion generator to keep the air healthy to breathe inside the vehicle.
The NIO Piot is integrated with 23 sensor and with tri-focal front-facing cameras, four surround exterior cameras, five-mm wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors as well as a driver monitor camera to ensure safety in case you fall asleep while driving.
The car’s design throws up subtle hints and queues from the Faraday Future as well as the Hyundai fuel-cell crossover. The wide, flat nose, distinctly sharp headlights catch the eye immediately. The car seems proportioned well and the flanks are accentuated with flush handles that look cutting edge yet chic.
The interiors are where NIO tries to outdo itself, maybe overdoing it a bit. A big tablet LCD screen on the dash looks rather unappealing for a small centre stack cluttered with instruments. Although, the air vents are styled beautifully in long singular lines reminiscent of Audi designs.
On the shotgun seat, NIO has gone out to make it as plush and luxurious as the rear seats of leading sedans. It boasts multiple adjustment features including a recliners, La-Z-Boy leg rest that flip up from the underside of the seat. I can move sideways, back and forth allowing copious amounts of legroom and headroom. However, the company has made each seat baby-safe for families as well. The pinched sides merge with the swooping and glass roof to form a sleek rear end. The tail lights are done in characteristic styling of NIO’s EP9.
The front passenger seat is quite unique, though, in that it rivals the rear passenger-side seat in many flagship sedans. It reclines, but it also has a La-Z-Boy style leg rest that rises up from the front. The seat slides way back, which not only allows for copious amounts of legroom, but NIO also suggests it can be handy for a parent to reach his or her child in the back.
The initial 10,000 units of the car are set for manufacturing as high-spec “Founder Edition” vehicles. These 10,000 units are priced at 548,000 yuan (Rs 53.14 lakh) in China. However, NIO claims the entire lot has been pre-booked and sold. NIO is still to make an announcements whether it will sell the ES8 outside China.
NIO has opened NIO Houses in China’s capital Beijing. It says it has plans to open more in cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Hefei, Suzhou, and Wuhan.
Just like Tesla, the company has been launching cutting edge tech on multiple platforms. Though, the ES8 is the company’s first attempt at testing the waters in the mass consumer market, earlier this year, it launched an electric concept car called EVE which was a self-driving vehicle. It then launched its flagship EP9, an electric supercar priced at an eye-watering $1.5 million. The EP9 goes 0-100 km/h in 2.7 seconds.