NIO CEO details thinking on first Onvo EV, battery swap alliance · TechNode

The first electric vehicle model of NIO’s lower-priced, family-oriented sub-brand Onvo finally made its debut in Shanghai on Wednesday, the International Day of Families, after three years of development. The coupe-style sports utility vehicle was surrounded at its unveiling by not only hundreds of journalists but also Chinese parents who took their children to the event, and who the company hopes will form the very first owners of the long-anticipated car.

The Chinese EV maker on Wednesday began taking reservations for the Onvo L60 at a pre-sale price tag of RMB 219,900 ($30,471), cheaper by RMB 30,000 than the entry-level Tesla Model Y but with a longer driving range and a roomier interior space, among other advantages. The SUV, scheduled for launch in September, is expected to be priced at under RMB 200,000, and come with NIO’s Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) program, in which customers buy a car and pay for a battery rental service, similar to the company’s scheme for NIO branded cars.

Confident in the strong competitiveness of its offering and a large customer base in China, NIO management said it has “high expectations” for Onvo, which is short for “on voyage” in English. Its Chinese name Ledao translates as “path to happiness.” Speaking to reporters after the debut on Thursday, William Li, founder, chairman, and chief executive of NIO, shared additional details about NIO’s ongoing partnerships for battery swapping with some of China’s most established car manufacturers, including Geely, Changan, and GAC. 

First Onvo EV

NIO’s first mainstream crossover, with a similar shape to its more premium siblings, competes with Tesla’s Model Y, the world’s top-selling electric SUV, from nearly every perspective. The entry-level L60 comes with a driving range of 555 kilometers (345 miles), a bit longer than that of the rear-wheel-drive Model Y (554 km), while the other two variants travel more than 730 km and 1,000 km on a single charge, respectively. 

The company also said that the L60’s outstanding wind resistance, measured by a drag coefficient of 0.229, increases its effective range, while a 900-volt electrical system reduces energy loss to heat, giving it a longer range. The total energy consumption of the car is 12.1 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 kilometers, compared with the 12.5 kWh achieved by the Model Y, according to NIO. 

Li said that NIO will make a “pretty decent” gross margin from the L60, by focusing on core values that matter to Chinese families, rather than producing a vehicle with a dazzling array of unnecessary specs, a move that keeps the car’s overall costs under control. Cost savings also come from NIO and Onvo sharing research and development costs, among other synergies.

The Onvo L60 embraces the vision-based approach advocated by Tesla, which uses cameras and artificial intelligence and gets rid of lidar sensors for autonomous driving. It also uses a smaller and more affordable lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery pack from BYD, according to Reuters.

Mobility electric vehicle EV nio onvo china L60 tesla model y
An Onvo L60 electric crossover, which competes with the Tesla Model Y, was showcased in Shanghai on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Credit: TechNode/Jill Shen

Battery swaps

NIO also provided details about its extensive power infrastructure network, which is claimed to be the largest of its kind in China with more than 2,415 battery swapping stations as of Wednesday. It has long been a loss-making effort for the company but is now emerging as an attractive option for charging availability and cost reduction for a growing list of Chinese auto giants. 

Onvo owners will only be able to use the company’s newer swap stations (the third- and fourth-generation ones) and will share the facilities with NIO’s partners. Each of the newer swap stations, which can hold more than 20 battery packs of different sizes, can offer more than 400 swaps per day, with each pack being used roughly up to 20 times. Li mentioned the company’s plan to charge partners a service fee of roughly RMB 20-30 per swap. NIO itself completed nearly 70,000 battery swaps per day as of May 8. 

Meanwhile, NIO owners can “refuel” their vehicles at any swap shop, giving them more charging availability and a premium user experience. The company said it is on track to build 1,000 battery swap facilities on its own this year and expand the network for NIO and Onvo from the 2,316 stations available as of the end of last year, while its partners are also set to provide additional resources. 

Li added that he envisaged there being six to seven EV battery sizes at most over the long term, with partners set to use batteries of the same kind as Onvo. NIO currently uses batteries in four sizes with an energy density ranging from 70 to 150 kWh.

READ MORE: Drive I/O | Big bets on battery swaps

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