In China, a car blogger has posted on microblogging website Weibo a series of pictures of a new heavily camouflaged NIO model that allegedly would be the first of the pristine sub-brand Alps. That brand is one of two – the other being Firefly – NIO wants to position in a price range under its current premium models to enter the mass market, CEO Lihong Qin unveiled in April.
Further details were not confirmed yet, but it’s said the new model line with the codename ‘Alps’ would target the mass market in China with prices between 200 000 yuan (€25 360) to 300 000 yuan (€38 047) and a single-motor sedan as one of the first to be introduced. Later, another sub-brand with the code name ‘Firefly’ would target Europe with under 25 000 euros prices.
Alps’ first sedan would be built on NIO’s next-generation platform, NT 3.0, featuring 800 V for better fast charging while still being faithful to the battery-swapping technology NIO offers in all its models today.
On thinner batteries
Alps is rumored to bet on thinner 60 kWh and 90 kWh batteries instead of the 75 kWh, 100 kWh, and 150 kWh for NIOs today. But compatible with NIO’s third-generation swapping stations. The number of models to be released would be half that of NIO to keep costs low. The delivery of the first model is planned for the second half of 2024.
So far, NIO hasn’t confirmed it will bring the Alps model range to Europe. Firefly is the project poised for Europe. Qin detailed that the brand would be launched in Europe first, from where it would expand into other foreign markets, next to the domestic market in China. “In Europe, there’s definitely a higher demand for smaller vehicles (than in China),” he told Autocar in April.
Firefly, which targets the mid- to low-end market, had made significant progress on developing its first model when, according to Chinese media, the project saw a design freeze at the end of June. To the relief of nearly 1 000 employees working on the project at the NIO site in Hefei, China, later in July, it was confirmed Firefly is expected to enter the mold development phase in August.
Qin acknowledged that the race toward an affordable and compact BEV is on for all car brands. “For compact cars, the proportion of the battery cost will be bigger than a battery pace in another car. But this challenge is universal. (…) This is all about competition. (…) If the overall experience we can provide for future European users is better in some areas, then we can establish our competitiveness, and then we can get our fair share.”
With separate battery swapping
Hinting at that overall experience, Qin added that the models from Firefly would also benefit from the swapping technology the company is currently rolling out in Europe. This will prove a hurdle. With their smaller footprint, these vehicles can’t use the existing infrastructure from Nio. However, according to Nio, battery swapping is one of the tricks to bring battery prices down.
Though the Firefly models are built for European customers, they will be made in China. As for the Alps, this brand will slot between Firefly and the higher-positioned Nio with assembly in the same factory to reduce costs. The introduction of Firefly is planned for Q3 in 2024.