You know NIO—the Chinese-backed startup formerly known as NextEV—from the NIO EP9, what they claim is the world’s fastest electric car and one that just set some impressive lap records at Circuit of the Americas. Today they showed the world Eve, a concept car with claims of Level 4 autonomy and a hoped 2020 production date. I don’t know about all of that, but it does look sweet.
NIO has given virtually no information on any tech details for this car—rather, Eve is a non-running concept intended to be their vision for their future products. The only tech spec we have from NIO at all is that the EP9 supercar has an all-electric drivetrain good for over a thousand horsepower. That’s, oddly, kind of the industry benchmark for Chinese-backed EV startups these days. Lucid claims the same.
Faraday Future also claims the same. Huh.
Like most EV startups, NIO CEO Padmasree Warrior told Jalopnik that their first entry into the market would be in the “premium” space—think alongside the Model S and other luxury EVs—with pricing still to be determined. However, their larger goal is to move downmarket with a more accessible car, hopefully with a second, more mass-produced model. That’s also not unlike Tesla’s current strategy, but we certainly hope they’re better with deadlines than Tesla’s been.
Like those companies, NextEV has a base in California and financing from China, as well as a partnership with Chinese automaker JAC Motors, as GreenCarReports reported a few months back, when NextEV announced the two companies would bring an electric SUV to market in 2018 or 2019.
Warrior says that they’re still evaluating their options as to where they will build the production car that evolves from the Eve, as it’s still in the early stages of design. They’re hiring fast, though: in just a year, she said that the company has ballooned from just 12 employees to over 300 in its Silicon Valley Base.
There’s still a lot of information we’re going to need from NextEV before we see this thing as anything more than an idea of what a car could look like, but it’s still neat as it is.
However, NIO vice president of design Kris Tomasson told Jalopnik that the Eve concept has a lot in common with the production car they’re working on, which is designed from the ground-up to be autonomous—with more priority given to passenger productivity, comfort and entertainment within its space.
So, in addition to making passengers comfy, NIO says they’re also focusing on integrating the high-performance computing power that would control the autonomous Eve better than they would be able to in a car not originally designed to drive itself.
The Eve was presented as a living space on wheels, where you could have the time spent commuting back to work on other things, or just relax. One of the Eve’s rear seats looked like a legit, comfy modern recliner. Eve’s seats were surprisingly cozy, and made of light beige woven fabric and warm brown leather. The driver’s seat was integrated into a piece of funky car furniture with a seat behind it and storage space on the side. The passenger seat also featured a pull-down rear-facing jumpseat on its back.
There will still be a steering wheel and pedals, however, that’s primarily to give people what they’re used to in a car. Eve’s concept was presented with an artificial intelligence unit named “Nomi,” who would set vital car functions like cabin temperature, and hopefully even fetch your car for you from afar.
These transparent panels are also cool, as they’re meant to let you enjoy the view out while maintaining privacy for the occupants inside:
This also allowed designers to go wild with one continuous body-colored panel for the sides of the Eve. The NIO team described them as “active opacity” panels, which means you can either enjoy the view or crank up the opacity to shut out the inside world.
The map projection on the dash was also cool:
NIO showed off several videos of how they envisioned their concept would work in real life, most of which involved a big screen up front like this, with a likely selector knob like you’d find in a modern Audi for certain functions. If the focus is no longer on driving yourself, these big screens are fine.
However, for those of you who like controls you can just hit, turn and tweak without looking away from what will presumably either be the road if you’re driving, or Season Two of Beavis and Butt-Head on an iPad if you’re not, NIO’s leader of user experience design Alex Castellarnau says that he’s pushing for more haptic feedback to be integrated into the car’s interior. Think screens that click when pressed, or rotary dials that have defined clicks.
But mostly we’re interested in seeing proof that its intentions could be realized according to plan. Warrior told Jalopnik that they led off with the EP9—which they’ve sold three of already—to showcase the speed of the company’s development, and their philosophy that “autonomous” doesn’t necessarily have to mean that a car isn’t fun to drive.
That’s all fine and well, but it’s time to build the cars.