Nio will expand its charging network by building at least 400 battery swap stations across China this year, alleviating a major concern among potential buyers that cars have insufficient driving range to travel between charging points, its president said on Monday.
Riding the wave of China’s speedy EV adoption, the electric vehicle maker also launched a special service campaign for owners during this year’s Lunar New Year holiday season, including unlimited free battery swapping and personalized customer service.
Why it matters: Nio’s recent moves to shore up its charging network and customer service capability are expected to further enhance its place in the Chinese luxury car segment, according to president Qin Lihong, who spoke to reporters in Beijing on Monday.
Charging infrastructure: In what Qin described as “a stress test” to check how Nio could “provide users with seamless services that were beyond their expectations” (our translation), Nio swapped nearly 1.25 million EV battery packs between Jan. 13 and Feb. 5 in China. For comparison, the company completed just over 800,000 swaps with a chain of 143 service stations between May 2018, when its first swap facility began operations, and mid-August 2020.
- Nio ran a network of 1,305 battery swap stations around China for a user base of nearly 290,000 drivers as of last year and will build more swap facilities than its previous estimate of 400 this year, Qin said, without giving a new number. The EV maker initially planned to expand its charging network to 1,700 swap stations in 2023, chief executive William Li said on Dec. 24 at Nio’s annual press conference.
- The eight-year-old company also claimed to be carmakers’ biggest EV-charging provider, with a network of 13,629 charging piles in China as of December. During the Lunar New Year holiday season, 76% of the charging sessions using Nio’s charging piles came from non-Nio cars, of which 17.6% were from BYD, 15.8% from Tesla, and 4.1% from Xpeng models. Official figures showed that China had nearly 1.8 million public charging piles as of December.
- Senior vice president Shen Fei said that Nio would scale up its charging operations at a pace that is in line with the increase in its sales volume. This not only refers to the build-up of swap stations but also applies to hybrid locations that include swap facilities and charging piles, which the company believes will better serve clients at peak times.
- Qin added that the seasonal campaign will not significantly impact Nio’s financial results but rather enhance its reputation for premium service and experience, as the company reduced advertising spend accordingly to keep its gross margin flat. Nio began offering owners six free swaps a month in late 2020, but maintains its policy of unlimited free battery swaps for an undisclosed number of early owners.
Unexpected services: In addition to existing, regular on-call valet charging and parking services it offers to car owners whose vehicles are running out of power, Nio provided a wide range of personalized, value-added services during the recent Lunar New Year holiday season.
- This ranged from family photoshoots at the company’s clubhouse-style flagship stores to the feeding of pets at the homes of Nio owners who were traveling, which a Shanghai-based Nio owner surnamed Dai described as “trivial but touching” when contacted by TechNode on Monday.
- Shen clarified by saying that these service options did not put pressure on its business, as most of them were provided unofficially by frontline employees who were simply working hard to fulfill customers’ needs.
Industry outlook: Nio remains optimistic that this year’s sale figures will exceed the roughly 184,000 units Lexus sold in 2022 in China. The auto upstart expects solid growth momentum for the country’s EV market despite a recent slump as China dropped its COVID-19 prevention measures.
- Qin added that intelligent, electrified, and high-end vehicles will continue to gain traction in the world’s biggest auto market, citing the average sale price of passenger vehicles in China, which is RMB 30,000 ($4,422) more in 2022 than in 2019.
- Industry observers expect rising competition and waning profits for Chinese automakers this year amid Beijing’s phase-out of EV purchase subsidies and a slow post-pandemic recovery. The China Passenger Car Association estimated passenger EV sales will reach 8.5 million units in 2023, representing an increase of around 50% from a year ago.