In this article, we introduce NIO (Chinese: 蔚来)(HKEX: 9866)(NYSE: NIO)(SGX: NIO), a Chinese start-up founded in 2014 which designs and jointly manufactures "smart" electric vehicles targeting the mid-high range of China's automobile market.
This article is part of our China auto industry series, which includes:
An Overview of China's Auto Industry (forthcoming)
Value-For-Money Auto Companies: Wuling Motors
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Introduction and Corporate History
NIO (Chinese: 蔚来) was founded in 2014 as a designer, developer, joint-manufacturer, and seller of premium "smart" electric vehicles. NIO's Chinese name translates to "blue sky coming", which reflects the company's guiding philosophy of building a brighter and more sustainable tomorrow.
NIO aims to differentiate itself from competitors through continuous technological breakthroughs and innovations, including the brand's famous battery swapping technology, Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) scheme, and its autonomous driving technology, which NIO refers to as Autonomous-Driving-as-a-Service (ADaaS).
Battery Swapping Technology
With NIO's battery swapping technology, NIO vehicle users can simply stop by a Power Swap station to exchange their depleted batteries for new ones. Battery swapping provides users with a more convenient experience than the traditional plug-in charging method which requires a certain amount of wait time at charging stations before drivers can get back on the road. As of the end of July 2022, NIO had 1,407 Power Swap stations across China and 948 Power Charger stations for traditional plug-in charging.
Note: NIO claims each battery swap process only takes 3 minutes
Battery-As-A-Service (BaaS) Scheme
In 2020, NIO launched its Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) scheme where buyers can choose to pay a monthly subscription fee for battery usage separately from the price of the vehicle (as opposed to paying a fixed, all-in-one vehicle price inclusive of the battery cost). Participants in this scheme can enjoy greater flexibility with temporary and/or permanent battery upgrade options depending on their lifestyle needs going forward.
NIO plans to roll out its NIO Autonomous Driving (NAD) technology on a monthly subscription basis in the future. The NAD technology is expected to cover various use cases including highways, urban roads, parking, and battery swapping.
NIO launched its first car, the EP9 supercar, in 2016, although the vehicle was never commercially mass-produced. From 2017 till the present, NIO launched a series of six fully electric (i.e. non-hybrid) passenger cars comprising of four SUVs and two sedans in the mid-high price range (see further details in the section below).
NIO went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: NIO) in September 2018, followed by a secondary listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX: 9866) in March 2022 and a tertiary listing on the Singapore Exchange (SGX: NIO) in May 2022.
NIO's brand portfolio includes six electric vehicles on the market and two concept cars that were never mass-produced commercially.
Commercially Produced Cars
NIO's six commercially produced cars comprise of four SUVs and two sedans, all in the mid-high price range (i.e. similar to the BMW X3 and X5 SUVs and BMW 3 series and 5 series sedans).
The ES8 is NIO's flagship SUV product launched in 2017 that comes in both a six-seater and seven-seater option. A new version of the original ES8 was launched at the end of 2019 with various product improvements.
Note: the middle seat in the back row is removed in the six-seater option
The ES6 was launched in 2018 as a mid-size, five-seater, electric SUV with relatively high performance capabilities relative to other cars of the same price range.
The EC6 is a five-seater electric coupe SUV launched in December 2019 that features a more sporty design and 2.1 square metre panoramic all-glass roof.
The ET7 is described as a mid-large size electric sedan that is also NIO's second flagship product unveiled in January 2021. Deliveries of the ET7 commenced in March 2022.
The ET5 was unveiled in December 2021 as a mid-size sedan smaller than the preceding ET7. Deliveries of the ET5 are anticipated to commence in September 2022.
Unveiled in June 2022, the ES7 is NIO a mid-large, five-seater SUV and also the company's fastest car to date. Deliveries of the ES7 are expected to commence at the end of August this year.
NIO also has two concept cars that were never mass-produced for commercial selling purposes: the EP9 supercar, and the EVE.
The EP9 is a supercar produced in 2016 that was the fastest electric vehicle in the world at the time of its launch.
NIO describes the EVE as the company's "vision for an autonomous car of the future". The vehicle has an unconventional interior layout that "reflects more a living environment than a mode of transport" to provide utmost comfort to its passengers, while also being equipped with new autonomous driving (i.e. self-driving) protocols that claim to be more intuitive for a superior driving experience.
Next, we turn to a financial overview of NIO.
Revenue and Profit Margins
#1: NIO Generated Total Revenue of RMB36.1 Billion in 2021, Although Operating Income and Net Income Are Still Negative
NIO started recognizing revenue in June 2018 when the company began delivering its first vehicles. Annual total revenue reached RMB36.1 billion in 2021, although the company has yet to breakeven in terms of operating income and net income.
#2: More Than 90% Of NIO's Total Revenue Is Attributable To Vehicle Sales
NIO generates revenue from vehicle sales and other sales, which comprise of the sales of automotive regulatory credit*, charging piles, service packages (e.g. charging and battery swapping services), battery upgrades, and accessories and other products (e.g. extended warranty).
Breaking down NIO's total revenue by segment, we see that vehicle sales account for more than 90% of the company's revenue each year.
*Chinese regulators have specific new energy vehicle (NEV) credit targets for the automobile industry with the amount of credits earned per vehicle depending on various measures such as vehicle driving range and battery energy efficiency. Since all of NIO's vehicles produced are NEVs, the company generates a surplus of NEV credits that can be sold to other auto manufacturers who operate at a credit shortage.
#3: NIO's Gross Profit Margin Turned Positive In 2020
NIO's gross profit margin turned positive in 2020 and increased to 18.9% in 2021. In contrast, the company's operating profit margin is still negative but of decreasing magnitude, reaching a level of -12% in 2021.
#4: Vehicle Sales Are Relatively More Lucrative
Breaking down NIO's gross profit margin by revenue segment, we see that vehicle sales are relatively more lucrative and reached a level of 20.1% in 2021. In contrast, the gross profit margin for other sales just turned positive the same year, with a slim margin of only 5.7%.
Vehicle Sales Data
#1: NIO Delivered 91,429 Cars in 2021 And 50,827 Cars in Q1 2022
NIO contracts Jianghuai Automobile Group (also known as JAC Motors, Chinese: 江淮汽车), a state-owned auto manufacturer, to produce its vehicles. 91,429 and 50,827 NIO cars were delivered to consumers in 2021 and 1H2022 respectively.
#2: The ES6 Is NIO's Bestselling Car
NIO delivered 20,050 ES8s, 41,474 ES6s, and 29,905 EC6s in 2021 and 8,022 ES8s, 23,534 ES6s, 12,539 EC6s, and 6,912 ET7s in 1H2022. Since the brand's inception, the relatively value-for-money, high performance ES6 SUV seems to be NIO's bestselling car.
We conclude with some of NIO's key future business strategies.
#1: Power Station Network Expansion
Unsurprisingly, one of NIO's fundamental development strategies going forward is to expand its power station network by implementing the company's NIO Power 2025 plan announced in July 2021. The NIO Power 2025 plan represents a commitment to install 600 new Power Swap stations annually in China during 2022 to 2025, with the ultimate goal of having 4,000 Power Swap stations globally by the end of 2025 (comprising of 3,000 stations within China and 1,000 stations abroad). The company also aims to ensure that 90% of its auto users will be living within 3 kilometres of a Power Swap station by the end of the same time period, up from 29% in mid-2021.
#2: International Expansion
NIO first expanded overseas by entering the Norwegian market in May 2021. In February 2022, NIO announced that the company will be introducing its products to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark in 2022, with an eventual goal of expanding to 25 countries by the end of 2025.
#3: Achieving Economies of Scale
Undoubtedly, as a start-up company, NIO has yet to reach economies of scale. Some interesting points to consider include if, how, and when economies of scale can be reached, especially given the company's battery swapping model which is more costly and difficult to set-up and maintain than traditional charging infrastructure.
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