This Chinese EV startup could end the year remarkably close to Tesla on sales in China

Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Among a slew of Chinese electric car startups that surfaced in recent years, one stood out—it went public in New York this year and now is drawing closer in sales to a rival that’s also an inspiration: Tesla.

That’s NIO, a four-year-old Shanghai-based electric-vehicle maker that counts Chinese social media giant Tencent and Singapore state investment fund Temasek as investors. On Monday (Dec. 3), NIO said on social media site Weibo that it has delivered 8,030 cars (link in Chinese), putting it on track to win a bet with rival Xiaopeng Motors, another billion-dollar EV startup, backed by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.

In July, He Xiaopeng, founder of Xiaopeng Motors, bet that no new Chinese EV maker could deliver 10,000 cars (link in Chinese) this year, because quality control and platform development would take a long time. NIO’s founder Li Bin bet otherwise, saying his company would deliver 10,000 cars to customers by the end of 2018. Whoever lost would give the other a car from his own brand.

Reaching that number would be a major milestone for NIO, putting it not so far behind Tesla, widely admired in China. Last year, Tesla sold 17,670 cars (link in Chinese), which put it in among the top 10 sellers of fully electric cars in China. This year, the California-based company founded by Elon Musk sold around 14,000 fully electric vehicles (link in Chinese) in the first nine months, according to China Passenger Car Association, which gets its data from companies. In October Tesla’s China sales slumped 70% to 211 compared to sales in the same month last year due to increased tariffs, according to Reuters (Tesla disputes that figure).

Of course, Tesla sales could pick up by the end of the year, widening the gap. After a meeting on Saturday (Dec. 1) between US president Donald Trump and China’s president Xi Jinping, Trump tweeted that China has promised to reduce and remove tariffs on cars from the US, currently at 40%. It’s unclear when that will happen.

NIO’s chief financial officer Louis Hsieh reaffirmed the 10,000 goal in the firm’s latest earnings call. And last week Li said (link in Chinese) it has produced 10,000 cars of its ES8 flagship 7-seater SUV. (That’s with help from state-owned carmaker JAC Motors—like many other Chinese EV startups, NIO has to rely on a more well-established car maker to make its cars due to the government’s licensing restrictions.)

For comparison, Xiaopeng Motors, another billion-dollar worth Chinese EV startup which also outsources its manufacturing, said it would deliver at least 1,000 cars (link in Chinese) before China’s Lunar New Year in early February. Xiaopeng originally had a goal to do it sooner but instead pushed the deadline forward by two months.

Looking for more in-depth coverage? Sign up to become a member and read our package on China’s electric-car boom that starts publishing next week.