NIO fast-forwarding the automotive user experience

The launch of a new hypercar is not normally of much interest to the IoT world, even one that uses electric motors to sprint from standstill to 125mph in just 7 seconds.

Yet the new NIO EP9 is more than just a fast car because it’s the halo vehicle of a new global brand launched at the Saatchi Gallery in London’s trendy Chelsea area.

NIO now plans to start building affordable, yet premium level, all-electric SUVs next year in partnership with Chinese state-owned carmaker JAC.

The new brand is the brainchild of William Li co-founder and chairman of NextEV a company formed in 2014 to compete in the Formula E electric race series – a championship it won in the opening season.

What’s important both for the automotive and IoT industry’s is Li’s vision on what he hopes to achieve with the NIO brand. That’s because he sees technology and product as being less important than user experience.

Speaking to TU-Automotive after the launch he said: “It is important for us to reach the point that the user experience of recharging the cars will be better than the user experience of filling a car with gas so that the user doesn’t have to choose electric just for moral reasons.

“These cars are not just about technology, we need to consider carefully the user’s experience and this is not just about fast cars.

“In future, this means you not only have a very good car but also a very good service. For example, how can you use mobile internet technology to improve the end user’s service? Also you need to think about the digital connectivity with the car and the connected users. Each of these touch points is very important.”

He also sees the ownership model changing radically as young urban people make different demands from transport than their parents.

Li explained: “Now we have to think about car-sharing and how we can create a really good ownership experience and how we can create innovation beyond the realms of the car?”

He said his ideas about user experience come from lessons learned from creating Chinese largest automotive website in 2000.

“This is why I always focus on the experience rather than the technology and also focused firmly on the user’s experience,” Li said. “For example, Apple is not known for its technological breakthroughs. Of course, they have the knowledge base but they are really successful because of they have a very good user experience. That’s why we have to provide the best user experience so that they will grow to love the electric car and then we can achieve our ultimate purpose.”

He said automakers are in danger of losing out to tech companies because they put too much stock on their products and not on the user’s demands. Li explained: “While technology is very important, you cannot only rely on it to be successful. This is why existing traditional automakers are struggling to catch up with technology companies in this area because they are more interested in just manufacturing the car and are not as interested in the user experience as the technology companies are used to doing. While dealerships, gas stations and insurance companies have a direct relationship with the end-user, the automakers do not in this mobile internet era.

“So we see that the traditional automakers are struggling to change their ways of communicating with the end users. For example, at this launch we have some 20M people in Chinawatching this launch whereas few automakers use this way of communicating with the consumer.”

While NIO will be rivaling traditional automakers, it will also be challenging new comers like Tesla especially in the autonomous driving arena. It NextEV has already secured a license to test driverless cars in Californiaand has big ambitions to be first to break through the current Level 2 barrier.

Its chief development officer and USCEO based in San Jose, Padmadsree Warrior, told TU-Automotive: “We are targeting Level 4 where the driver will just be an element in the loop. Legislation, at the moment, doesn’t allow us to go for Level 5 although the technology is there. We have partners making the necessary sensors and hardware while most of the software we are developing ourselves.

“We have yet to disclose our timeline but we want to be the first on the market with Level 4 capability. We have 280 people on the payroll working on this is California.

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