With the EL6, this Chinese automaker dreamed of drivers swapping their batteries instead of charging them. But the West is nowhere near ready for an overpriced EV with a $600 version of Alexa.
WHAT IF, INSTEAD of seeking out a charger and plugging in for half an hour, you could swap out your depleted EV battery for a new one in just five minutes? That’s the question asked by Nio, a 7-year-old Chinese electric car company with a network of more than 1,300 battery-swap stations for doing exactly that.
However, the vast majority of these stations are in China, with 100 in Shanghai alone, serving customers who mostly live in apartments and lack the space to install a charger at home. Customers buy the car but lease the battery, with the monthly fee granting them access to the swap station network.
By contrast, there are currently only 27 so-called Power Swap Stations in Europe, across Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, but more are supposedly in the pipeline. Nio plans to expand into the UK by the end of 2024, but, just like alternative Chinese auto brand BYD, the US is not currently on Nio’s roadmap.
Guided by their navigation system, Nio drivers arrive at the battery-swap stations, park in a designated bay, then let their car maneuver itself into position, where it is autonomously lifted into the air and its battery swapped for a fully charged one. The swap indeed takes five minutes and, while the stations are manned for now, Nio says the entire process could soon be automated.
Like so many Chinese EV startups poised to dominate the European market, Nio may not yet have crossed your radar, despite its clever answer to range anxiety. The brand launched back in 2016 with the reveal of an electric hypercar called EP9 in London’s Saatchi Gallery. Only a handful were built and all are retained by Nio itself, where they now act as automotive objets d’art in “Nio Houses.” Another bid to be different, these houses form a network of city-center retail spaces and, apparently, members’ clubs for Nio customers to socialize, grab a coffee, join a yoga class (yes, yoga) or tackle their inbox in a shared workspace.
Two years after the splashy EP9 launch came a sensible electric SUV called the ES8. This was followed by the smaller ES6, and, in 2021, Nio ventured beyond China, expanding into Norway first, with Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands following in 2022.
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