Chinese EV maker Nio is taking a step into hardware by developing its own smartphones, Chinese media 36Kr reported. The move makes Nio the latest Chinese automaker to diversify operations in the hope of protecting its core EV business amid increased competition. 

Why it matters: Nio’s pursuit of making smartphones comes as other Chinese tech companies are making plans to build EVs, looking to profit in the world’s biggest auto market embracing EVs.

  • EV makers are also carving out a new growth story at a time when chip shortages remain a major stumbling block to car sales and the industry is still years away from realizing a fully autonomous future, Lu Shengyun, a partner at tech consultancy firm Artefact said.
  • Lu added that it “totally makes sense” for EV makers to develop smartphones vital to intelligent and connected vehicles and their mobile ecosystems. But it’s yet to be seen whether these automakers can deliver seamless user experience across devices.

Details: Nio recently hired Yin Shuijun, former president of the smartphone unit of Chinese mobile internet firm Meitu, to lead the new business in Shenzhen, Chinese media 36Kr reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

  • The EV company has been mulling the idea for some time and had previously approached talent from multiple smartphone makers, including Honor, a Chinese budget smartphone brand formerly owned by Huawei, the report said.
  • One of the world’s biggest EV startups with a $35 billion valuation, Nio has posted multiple jobs on job recruitment site Liepin, such as telecom testing engineers (in Chinese), suggesting the company is assembling an engineering team for making smartphones.
  • A Nio representative declined to comment further when contacted by TechNode on Wednesday.

Context: Nio is not alone in exploring new areas for expansion, as multiple Chinese tech companies are also looking to enter the EV space.

  • Xiaomi last March unveiled its plan to invest a total of $10 billion in making autonomous EVs over the next 10 years, while Huawei has partnered with domestic automakers, including BAIC and Changan, to sell its self-driving and in-car software.
  • Chinese auto major Geely made its foray into the smartphone market with the establishment of a RMB 715 million ($113 million) venture in the central city of Wuhan in September and was reportedly in discussions to acquire an Alibaba-backed smartphone maker.
  • Nio’s fellow startup Xpeng Motors has taken a slightly different approach with the debut of a low-speed robot toy pony for children last September, as part of the company’s strategy to create a robotic ecosystem that will enable driverless mobility SCMP reported. 

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen