‘Buying Nio stuff’: Chinese car company sells an entire lifestyle

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Nio electric cars on display in Shanghai. (AP)

SHANGHAI – In Shanghai, aerospace manager Lu Hao not only bought a sleek electric SUV from Nio, China’s answer to Tesla. He bought Nio’s entire vision of a future where social media, e-commerce and the daily commute come together in one lifestyle app.

In the morning, the 31-year-old eats cereal he bought from the automaker’s Nio Life online store while chatting with other Nio owners on his app. He wears Nio gear for the ride to and from work, and in the evenings he relaxes at home with a glass of Nio wine and chats even more with Nio owners about how to get the best out of their car.

“Buying Nio gear is part of my daily life,” said Lu, “the prices are good and it’s a habit to wear Nio clothes at events.” In the past two years, he has spent more than 220,000 yuan ($ 34,000) on Nio Life products, in addition to the 470,000 yuan he spent to buy his ES8 SUV to replace a Ford Mondeo gasoline sedan.

Car manufacturers around the world have long sought to tap into brand loyalty with goods such as branded T-shirts or caps. But the ambitions of Shanghai-based Nio are much greater: a start-up now valued at $ 70 billion on the New York stock exchange, exploits its own digital currency with tradable credits that customers can earn by buying a car. attend events or even just their Nio app stories.

“Communities lean towards loyalty … that’s exactly what Nio is tapping into,” said Tu Le, an analyst at Chinese research firm Sino Auto Insights, referring to an app that Nio executives say now has about 150,000 daily users.

“If Nio can continue to build the community, launch great products, and don’t waste a lot of quality, they are well positioned to become a major player in China.”

However, Le cautioned, “Nio has still not managed to convert more of the Nio community who have not bought an Nio vehicle into Nio (car) buyers, which is worrying.”

Geely is about to do the same

Backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and by global investors betting on an electric car explosion in the world’s largest car market, Nio’s massive market value – just above that of the German BMW – contrasts sharply with so far small sales. .

It sold just under 44,000 cars in China last year, a fraction of BMW’s more than 2 million global sales, and remained firmly in the red, although it cut net losses significantly to $ 860 million.

Shanghai’s Lu may be one of the more avid Nio owners, but he’s far from alone. More than 80% of Nio customers participate in online or real Nio community activities, using Nio credits, apps and showrooms, according to executives who said Nio has sold more than 3 million Nio Life products to date.

“Deep and close contact with customers allows us to adapt more quickly to changes in the automotive industry,” Nio co-founder and president Qin Lihong told Reuters in a recent interview. Qin said Nio will build a user community in foreign markets when it branches out abroad – Europe is a likely market at some point – but will adapt to the local environment.

The same community post has been picked up by others.

Geely, China’s largest private car manufacturer, launched a new electric brand Zeekr with a similar strategy of city center showrooms and lifestyle product lines. Meanwhile, BMW, which has long had a lifestyle product line, launched its car owner app in China last September.

Nio designed its app, which differentiates its credits from the hotel’s points or the airline’s miles, in such a way that it tries to attract customers to interact more with the company, said Calvin Shen, Nio’s user relations manager. .

“Buying a car is a less frequent activity than taking a flight or shopping at the grocery store, so we need to create more daily activities to keep customers in touch,” Shen said.

Buyers like Shanghai’s Lu are on board with that, using some of its Nio credits to secure tickets for this year’s edition of the company’s annual ‘Nio Day’ celebration. The Chengdu event, live streamed on the app, saw the unveiling of the company’s first sedan, the ET7, which will now be added to Lu’s collection of Nio goods.