The landscape of Chinese startups pushing into the EV market has become a bit difficult to navigate. One company after another shows up, makes some headlines, then seems to falter. The list of companies that have created something substantive is short, but Nio, formerly NextEV, figures prominently on that list. Its initial claim to fame was the record-breaking EP9 supercar, which was largely developed in the U.K.
Nio has now launched its first series production car, the ES8. It’s another EV, but it features much more conventional proportions. It’s a three-row crossover, and its length and wheelbase mirror the Audi Q7’s almost exactly. The design language is modern, with the headlights executed as slim strips, and its taillights recall the BMW i8’s. The aluminum structure and body were developed with the Austro-Canadian supplier Magna.
The seven-seat interior is equally modern; it’s dominated by horizontal lines and features an elevated center console. The driver faces a digital instrument screen and a head-up display, and the center console features a large vertically oriented screen. The front passenger seat can extend into a veritable lounge chair.
Nio aims to offer artificial intelligence in its cars, and these functions are symbolized by a cutesy sphere that is called Nomi (“know me”). It aims to be a “companion that listens to the driver and passengers, that talks to them and helps them.” We hear that the ES8 also aims to offer Level 3 autonomous driving using the latest Mobileye EyeQ4 system.
The drivetrain consists of two electric motors, one up front and one at the rear, which together make 644 horsepower. That translates into a zero-to-62-mph sprint in just 4.4 seconds, according to Nio.
The range is somewhat less impressive. In the very optimistic European test cycle, the ES8 gets 220 miles on a charge, but we suspect that will be hard to attain in the real world. Nio boasts that the ES8 can travel 310 miles, but that’s at a constant 37 mph.
Recharging, at least, will be a quick affair: Its Power Mobile system squeezes more than 60 miles of range into the battery in just 10 minutes. And battery swapping is a serious proposition here, with Nio offering three-minute battery swaps.
In China, its first market, the ES8 costs the equivalent of about $71,000. If you opt for the battery-changing system, Nio will knock $15,000 off that price, although the monthly battery rental is around $205. The ES8 is not the vehicle with which the Chinese brand hopes to launch in the United States; that’s said to be a sleeker, less utilitarian EV, one that is yet to be seen.