The Nio ET7 Wants to Be China\u2019s Tesla Model S

The Nio ET7 Wants to Be China\u2019s Tesla Model S


The EV automaker Nio might not be a household name in the U.S., and it has not announced any plans to sell EVs in our market, but it’s already on its third electric model across the Pacific, busily filling out a lineup that could soon rival Tesla’s. And its executive-sized flagship, due to become its fourth offering, has just been revealed ahead of a planned production debut later this year.

What will the ET7 serve up?

For starters, two battery options with 70 kWh and 100 kWh of juice, the former good for over 311 miles of range, and the latter over 435 miles. Just like other large electric sedans, it will also offer a dual-motor all-wheel-drive setup, good for 644 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, which will allow for 3.9-second launches from 0 to 62 mph, among other feats.

Beyond those two battery packs, a solid-state 150-kWh monster of a battery will also be offered starting next year, good for a range of over 600 miles or over 1,000 kilometers. That’ll be something that the world of production EVs hasn’t really seen before and might not see from others for some time, even as German and Japanese rivals scramble to field electric models of their own. But we’ll wait for this mega-battery to drop first before crowning it Range King; for now we’ll just gawk at the styling and interior features of the ET7.

The exterior design of the ET7 is remarkably balanced and modern, but with a moderate whiff of Tesla styling elements, including a fastback roofline and flush door handles. A shark-like front fascia with thin LED headlights positioned almost flat on the fenders give the sedan a sleek and aggressive look, offset and balanced out by triangular vents bookending the front of the car. Out back, the ET7 features a wraparound taillight cluster stretching across the rear fascia, and a chiseled, convex tail shape topped by a modest spoiler bill. A drag coefficient of just 0.23 will make the ET7 one of the slipperiest cars on the road today, helped by such elements as aerodynamic wheel design.

On the inside, the center stack of the ET7 features a 12.8-inch central screen, while the driver gets yet another digital instrument panel 10.2 inches in size, also sitting separate from the dash that hides air vents at the point where the top half joins the bottom half. The interior is trimmed in Karuun renewable rattan, and all seats feature a massage function in addition to ventilation and heating, while the interior has no fewer than 23 speakers. The oval head on the dash, meanwhile, is the interface unit for a voice-recognition system called NOMI.

We’re not done with Tesla comparisons yet, and if you’ve spotted something off about the leading edge of the sedan’s roof by now, give yourself a pat on the back because that is indeed an integrated sensor bulge for a semi-autonomous driver-assist system. The sedan will feature a total of 33 sensors around its perimeter, including 11 cameras seeing the world in 8 megapixels, as well as lidar, radar, and ultrasonic sensors.

The charging process of the new sedan will also see an innovation that hasn’t been fielded in EVs before. Owners will be able to charge the sedan’s battery like in a normal EV… but they’ll also be able to swap out the whole battery at special automated stations operated by Nio. That’s right: Instead of charging a vehicle’s battery, owners will be able to have it swapped out for a fully charged one at one of these stations. The removed battery will then be recharged by the station and inserted into another vehicle that visits the station, with Nio estimating that these stations will be able to perform over 300 swaps per 24-hour period.

If this sounds like a lot of technology packed into one electric sedan, you’re not wrong, especially about the battery-swapping stations. That’s not a solution that any EV maker with presence in the states has seriously debated rolling out, due to infrastructure requirements as well as the current number of (and demand for) plain DC fast-charging stations. And we don’t really see this technology as being easily deployed in any country, given the fact that its main goal is just speeding up charging times for impatient drivers.

But if Nio delivers on even two-thirds of these features, with a starting price of $69,000 for the most affordable version of the ET7, Tesla should be worried from a technological if not a volume standpoint. In December, Nio delivered 2,009 units of its ES8 electric SUV, 2,493 units of its smaller ES5 electric SUV, and 2,505 units of the EC6 coupe-styled SUV. Yes, that’s a three-model lineup consisting entirely of SUVs, with the fourth quarter of 2020 seeing a total of 17,353 vehicles delivered, painting a picture of 112.6% growth year-on-year, with 43,728 vehicles delivered in 2020 total. That’s about a tenth of the number of vehicles Tesla delivered worldwide in 2020.

But we’re also old enough to remember a time when Tesla also had an annual production volume in this ballpark, and it wasn’t all that long ago. And as the Model S enters its tenth year on the assembly line next year with no replacement in sight and plenty of competition on the way, perhaps it will be Nio that will give it the most competition in the world’s biggest consumer auto market in the coming years.

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