The Chinese electric car startup Nio last weekend unveiled the ET7, the fourth vehicle in its lineup and the first that isn’t a crossover or SUV. Rather, the ET7 is a sedan aimed squarely at the Tesla Model S, and Nio has a lot riding on it.
The ET7 is still a year away but when it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2022 it’ll launch with three trim levels distinguished by different size battery packs. The entry ET7 will cost 448,000 yuan (about $69,000) and come with a 70-kilowatt hour pack. Nio says that will grant the cheapest ET7 about 310 miles of range, though that’s based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), a standard often criticized for delivering overly optimistic predictions.
Beyond that, Nio says to expect 100 kWh and 150 kWh models, priced at the equivalent of $78,000 and $81,000, respectively. Those NEDC estimates are quoted at 435 and a whopping 621 miles, which would be impressive if they weren’t founded on dubious forecasts. The ET7 will also be offered without a battery pack included for roughly $58,000; owners can then select the battery they prefer and cover that aspect of the vehicle in monthly installments.
All versions of the ET7 will employ dual-motor propulsion, with the front and rear axles receiving a combined 480 kW, or 643 horsepower. Nio claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds.
Range is only part of the ET7's story, though. At launch, the ET7 figures to be one of the first production cars in the world with LiDAR used for the purpose of semi-autonomous driving. (Notably, some Audis have had basic LiDAR sensors in the past, but nothing this sophisticated.)
That tech, combined with a total of 33 sensors, form the basis of Nio’s Aquila assisted driving stack. Per the company’s website:
NIO AQUILA Super Sensing features 33 high-performance sensing units including an ultralong-range high-resolution LiDAR, 11 8MP high-resolution cameras, enhanced driver monitoring system, 5 millimeter wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, redundant high-precision localization units and V2X. It redefines the standards of autonomous driving sensing systems.
Nio doesn’t say precisely what level of autonomy it’s hoping to achieve with the ET7, instead offering a rather vague outline of the types of things it envisions the car will be able to do. The “point A to point B” bit that follows sounds like Level 4 to me, while the delineation of “gradually covering use cases” makes it seem Level 3 is a more realistic starting point. (For a refresher on how levels of autonomy break down, check out these handy graphics.)
[Nio Autonomous Driving] brings safer and more relaxing autonomous driving from point A to point B, gradually covering the use cases in expressway, urban, parking and battery swap. Free up time and reduce accidents.
Volvo has also set a target to sell LiDAR-equipped cars in 2022, while Elon Musk has made it clear he’s unconvinced by the technology, having called it “expensive, ugly and unnecessary” in 2019. To Nio’s credit, the startup has evidently found a way to make LiDAR most definitely not ugly, with sleek integration immediately above the top of the windshield. Personally, if the locations of the LiDAR sensors weren’t pointed out to me in a photo, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all.
This time last year, Nio was not in a comfortable place. The company predicted it wouldn’t have enough funding to finish out 2020, and that was before the full impact of COVID-19 was realized. Nio was later rescued by a $1.4 billion influx of cash from Chinese government-affiliated entities, which not only kept the company afloat but allowed it to finish out the year with 43,728 vehicles sold.
The company is much healthier these days; its American depository shares were up about 10 percent on Monday morning following the ET7's unveiling. Nio has also managed to ship tens of thousands of cars, unlike some of its domestic counterparts, which have yet to deliver one. It may have even figured out automated battery swapping.
The ET7 looks fine in that mostly featureless, clean way a lot of luxury EVs do. I have little to say about it stylistically except that everything from the B-pillar back gives off Jaguar, Peugeot and Tesla vibes, which makes the ET7 hardly original but at least places it in decent company designwise.
Nio has already thwarted death and proved it’s for real. Now it needs to demonstrate staying power.