Want an insanely fast ride with zero emissions? Startup NIO has the car: An electric two-seater with muscular European lines and a top speed of 195 miles per hour (313 kilometers per hour).
The catch: The EP9 costs nearly $1.5 million. NIO, a Chinese-Western hybrid with bases in Shanghai, London and Silicon Valley, created it to showcase the company’s technology and had no sales plans. But it is taking orders for “bespoke vehicles” after hearing from buyers ready to pay the eye-popping price.
“We are actually pleasantly surprised how much interest we are getting,” said the CEO of NIO’s U.S. unit, Padmasree Warrior, a veteran of Cisco and Motorola.
NIO is part of a wave of fledgling automakers — all backed at least in part by Chinese investors — that are propelling the electric vehicle industry’s latest trend: ultra-high-performance cars.
Manufacturers including Detroit Electric, Qiantu Motor, Thunder Power and NEVS aim to compete with Europe, Detroit and Japan by offering top speeds over 150 mph (240 kph) and features including carbon fiber bodies and web-linked navigation and entertainment.
The ventures mix U.S. and European technology with Chinese money and manufacturing, reflecting this country’s rise as a market and investor for an industry where Beijing wants a leading role. Communist leaders see electric vehicles as a way to clear China’s smog-choked cities and as an engine for economic development.
“We really haven’t seen non-Chinese companies get into this super-technology market,” said Chris Robinson, who follows the industry for Lux Research.
NIO’s backers include Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, operator of the popular WeChat messaging service; computer maker Lenovo Group, a Singapore government-owned investment fund and U.S.-based IDG Capital, TPG and Hillhouse Capital.
Some brands are following the strategy of Tesla Inc., which debuted with an eye-catching roadster to establish a premium image before launching lower-priced models.