I’ve just met my dream car, and let me tell you, the EP9 has a lot under the hood. She delivers an awesome 1,341 horsepower. Advanced torque vectoring to adjust that muscle to each wheel. Insane acceleration: 0 to 60 in 2.7 seconds. A top speed just under 200 miles an hour, setting records at tracks in Europe. You’ve probably already guessed she’s a race car – but she’s in a league of her own. The EP9 is an electronic vehicle with Level 4 autonomous features, made by NIO, the massively funded, upstart Chinese-led international e-car maker daring to attract fans already infatuated by Tesla.


NIO has tremendous venture capital might and deep-pocketed cash backers in China and the US. Indeed, they call themselves a global startup. Think Sequoia Capital, Tencent, Baidu, Lenovo and nine other major players. Current investment stands at a rumored $2 billion (the company has been secretive about the exact total). Why such a giant bet? I’ve read a lot of US and Chinese press on NIO, and it’s clear that the company is hot to trot.

Here’s why the company’s getting so much attention. NIO may be the sister to Tesla. Led by a female CEO from Silicon Valley, the firm is taking an exceptionally inclusive, design thinking approach to the car of the future. Not just all-inclusive maintenance and service, but a deliberate design decision to elevate the user experience, complete with a Siri-like personal assistant called Nomi who’s at the driver’s beck and call to control the car’s interface. Experts liken it to how Apple approached reinventing its stores, creating a wonderland where the consumer feels they’ve been invited on a special, one-of-a-kind ride.

From Pain to Gain

Just like many hot startups, NIO’s inspirational origin story has captured the imagination of both investors and the public. It’s the antithesis of a stodgy auto company, a radical attempt to play catch up with Elon Musk’s meteoric Tesla. Founder William Li (Li Bin) would seem an unlikely candidate to dedicate himself to reinventing transportation. Born in a small village, he rarely saw cars but adored them as a child, building a crude wooden model when he was ten. That early fascination soon translated to a huge entrepreneurial bet. In the year 2000, while just in his mid-twenties, he pioneered the Chinese auto-buying and marketing platform Bitauto. A decade later he made a fortune when he took it public on the New York Stock Exchange. Then came the personal pain point that provided inspiration. On February 24, 2014, Li Bin took a photo from his balcony in Beijing, and captured a grim image of dense, choking smog. As the Chinese media reported: “Bin decided from this day that he can’t just convince customers to purchase electric vehicles on the market, he must make one for customers.” The first name he chose for his bold startup was literal, NextEV, and then metaphoric: NIO’s Chinese name “Weilai” means “Blue Sky Coming”, which has been the firm’s guiding optimism.

Auto analysts were at first puzzled when Li hired Padmasree Warrior as CEO in late 2015. She had no auto experience. But she was one of Silicon Valley’s most influential women, a former CTO of both Cisco and Motorola who also sits on Microsoft’s board. And Warrior knew that she was the right woman for the job. “What I bring is access to advanced technology,” said the tech world veteran. “We are thinking about the entire transportation experience and how to optimize it.”

In the fall of 2014, Li began scouring the world for talent, meeting over a hundred European designers, foreshadowing the international structure of the company, a global mashup of tech, design and manufacturing might. NIO has a Munich-based design center, headed by co-president Kris Tomasson, a former BMW I-Series designer and former head of Maserati, Ford of Europe. The performance center in London serves the Formula E team. NIO’s global software development center is in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, while NIO’s sleek modern global headquarters are located in Shanghai.

With its huge capital infusion, NIO has swiftly become a gravitational force in the global car industry, drawing tremendous talent from Tesla, Apple and other top companies – notably, Danilo Teobaldi, former chief of vehicle concepts at Italdesign Giugiaro S.p.A., and John Thomas, a former senior program director at Tesla.

Design Thinking China’s Car of the Future

Will the performance match the talent and hype? The Level 4 EP9 rollout starts with the all-electric Level 2 ES8, hitting the Chinese market in early 2018. The cars will include a swappable battery, a network of charging stations, and many of the autonomous features currently found in the Tesla. Security will also be a fundamental element. The tech team is headed up by Jamie Carlson, a former Tesla Autopilot engineer who also worked on Apple’s special ops team rumored to be developing auto technologies. Data and UX info collected from the ES8’s launch will inform the EP9, an “internet era” ultra-designed living room experience on wheels, where the driver can recline in the back seat and sleep, watch movies, or work from a tricked-out mobile office. “We want humans to get their time back from the chore of driving,” Warrior says. “Our vision of the car is a computer on wheels.”

Just as Elon Musk is the face of Tesla, Li Bin is a charismatic leader with a passion to fight climate change and a global reputation and a golden touch. He’s invested in more than 30 companies in the internet transportation sector, including the unicorns Bitmotor and Mobike, a ride sharing company. Will NIO prove to have the magic formula? Will mid-range buyers be eager to plunk down top dollar for a beautifully designed performance machine that might open blue holes in China’s smoggy gray skies? There’s plenty of competition, so it’s not a sure bet. There are a few other e-car giants in China: BYD Auto, Hawtai Motor and Roewe dominate the lower-end price point. Interestingly, a year ago, Li himself gave his company just a five percent chance of success.

But as a native of Shanghai (and lover of cars) I can tell you that China is moving fast toward e-cars and autonomous driving. There’s tremendous government and industry support given our nation’s serious air pollution and congestion, a problem found in many other cities around the world. NIO wants nothing less than to change the paradigm of personal transportation, and there’s something deeply inspiring about NIO’s goal of reinventing the “ownership experience” and giving millions of people a reason to buy electric and autonomous vehicles and “to feel positive again about owning a car.”

The race is on. Tesla commands the pole position, and already owns the high-end customers. Right now, NIO’s ES8 may be a bargain in comparison. The pre-order price is roughly $53,000 with huge tax incentives. The ES8 rolls off the assembly line in the next few months. I hope to see the first cars in Shanghai before long. With the array of technical and design talent NIO’s amassed, even Tesla may need to keep its eye on this international upstart.

It’s a new day.











就像许多热门的初创公司一样,蔚来汽车的起源故事吸引了许多投资人和公众的目光。蔚来选择了站在那些乏味的汽车公司的对立面(一个与传统底特律三巨头完全不同的世界)这是一家不断激进的尝试想要赶超Elon Musk正在平步青云的特斯拉的公司。创始人李斌看起来并不像一个理想的候选人来改变这个行业。他出生在一个很少能看到汽车的偏远农村但作为对汽车有着痴迷向往的小孩他在他十岁的时候做了一辆简陋的木头汽车。这个童年时期的憧憬很快转变成了一个巨大的创业赌注。在2000年26岁的李斌在成为了中国汽车买卖和市场咨询的领跑人并且创办了易车网。十年后易车网在纽约证券交易所上市并让李斌满载而归。而后因为个人的痛点而给了他灵感。在2014年二月二十四日,正在苦思未来汽车行业发展方向的李斌在北京自家的阳台上拍了一张照片,他无法相信自己眼前如此浓密的雾霾。蔚来也就在这一天孕育而生,就像媒体报道的一样“这一天,我下定决心开始行动。我们不能要求用户只是为了环保而买电动车。我们只能去造一辆车,让用户真的愿意拥有这个产品,顺便把环保做了,这才是解决问题的思路。”他大胆的初创公司的第一个名字非常直接NextEV,然后变得隐喻:“NIO蔚来汽车”表达了蔚来汽车追求美好明天和蔚蓝天空的积极态度。

(照片来自汽车人 由李斌拍摄于2014年)


在2015年李斌聘请了Padmasree Warrior中文名伍丝丽作为公司的CEO后引起了汽车分析师的疑惑和外界的猜疑因为她并没有汽车方面的经验。但是她是硅谷最具有影响力的女性之一,思科和摩托罗拉的前首席技术执行官和微软的董事。当然伍丝丽随时准备好了告诉所有人为何她是正确的人选。“我所带来的是获得先进技术的机会,”这个科技界老炮说道。“我们在考虑如何优化整个驾驶,行驶体验。”正是因为许许多多像伍丝丽这样的超级人脉中间人,才使得中国大公司如此垂涎旧金山湾区。


在2014年底李斌在全球范围寻找优秀人才,他见了超过100位欧洲的设计师,预示着这家公司的国际化结构,这是一个全球科技,设计和制造业的结合体。蔚来汽车在慕尼黑有一个设计中心。由主席Kris Tomasson带领,Kris是前宝马I系列总设计师,新生代设计大师。位于伦敦的竞技中心专注为蔚来的E级方程式车队服务。以及位于硅谷心脏的蔚来汽车的全球软件开发中心,这几年旧金山湾区受到了众多中国公司的青睐,许许多多的中国公司都在这里扎下了根,这里俨然成为了旧金山人民共和国。蔚来还有不得不提起的坐落于上海时髦的蔚来汽车全球总部。

巨额的资本注入让蔚来汽车迅速成为全球汽车行业的地心引力,从苹果,特斯拉等众多公司吸引了数不尽的人才,值得一提的是前任意大利设计首席汽车设计官Danilo Teobaldi和特斯拉前任资深项目主管John Thomas也加入了蔚来汽车的麾下。


蔚来汽车的表现会和她的人才还有媒体们的炒作相匹配吗?由四级自动驾驶的EP9衍生出的全电动二级自动驾驶的ES8将会与2018年初正式交付。这辆车将包括一个可以替换的电池,将会配备庞大的充电站网络,以及许许多多特斯拉现有的功能。安全性也是蔚来最基本的要素。技术团队由Jamie Carlson带领一位前特斯拉自动驾驶工程师,也曾在苹果特别行动组工作,传闻这个行动组负责为苹果研发顶尖汽车科技。从ES8收集的数据和用户体验也会与EP9共享。这是互联网时代超前设计的典范一个在轮子上的客厅体验,在车里司机可以移到后座睡觉,看电影,或者在他这个移动办公室办公。伍丝丽说“我们希望人们能从驾驶的琐事中脱离出来,我们对汽车的看法是这是一台在轮子上的计算机。”


正如Elon Musk是Tesla的脸,李斌是一个有着超凡魅力的领导者在全球享有声誉以及拥有着“点石成金”的本领。他投资了超过三十家互联网出行相关的公司,包括了易车网和摩拜单车这两家独角兽。蔚来汽车会不会证明他有神奇的魔法配方吗?中档买家会不会迫不及待的花掉他们手中的钱来买这辆设计精美高性能并且很有可能会在被雾霾影响的中国天空打开一个蓝色的天窗的机器吗?市场竞争非常激烈,这也不是一个肯定的赌注。在中国还有其他几家电动汽车巨头比如比亚迪,荣威,华泰等霸占了低端价位市场。有趣的是一年前李斌认为自己只有百分之五的概率成功。





(It’s a new day.)