In the final analysis, we still hope that Weilai will succeed.

People always regard success as correctness, but those who have not yet succeeded need more energy to explain correctness.

Li Bin, the founder of Weilai, is the person who often needs to explain what is right.

In the second half of 2023, the domestic new energy market has set off a price and sales storm. Old rivals of NIO such as Lideal and Xpeng have delivered record-breaking monthly delivery volumes. Developers are also making steady progress with only a few models.

NIO is not one of those manufacturers that breathed a sigh of relief in the second half of the year, so many people suggested that the first model of NIO's mid-range brand "Alpine" should be accelerated and sold as a NIO mass-market model in order to achieve sales figures. explosion on.

However, Weilai's response was that at the 2023 NIO Day annual conference, it released an executive flagship sedan ET9, which will compete with Mercedes-Benz S, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8L, and even Rolls-Royce's first pure electric model "The Shining Specter".

With a decisive attitude, NIO stated that this brand will only move up, never down.

The widest boundary and the highest brand dream

"NIO is willing to do anything to help sell cars, except selling the cars themselves." Compared with its old rival Ideal, NIO really seems not focused enough and spends too much energy on things other than building and selling cars. superior.

Among them, the most controversial ones are the NIO Phone and the construction of battery swap stations. Of course, many potential NIO car owners joked, "I am willing to never go to NIO House (NIO House, a space that NIO provides for car owners to rest, work, and socialize) for the rest of their lives." The price is $10,000 less."

▲ NIO House located next to West Lake in Hangzhou

Many people believe that excessive spending on ecology, infrastructure and services has lowered NIO's gross profit margin and raised the selling price of NIO cars, resulting in NIO's sales failing to enter an explosive period.

NIO's Q3 financial report for fiscal year 2023 shows that the gross profit margin for the quarter was 8.0%, which was higher than the 1% gross profit margin of the previous quarter, but lower than the 13.3% gross profit margin of last year's Q3.

Among them, the gross profit margin of automobiles in Q3 of fiscal year 2023 was 11.0%, which was also lower than the same period last year and higher than the second quarter.

In terms of car sales, NIO at this stage can only be called unsatisfactory. In Q3, NIO delivered 55,432 cars, a year-on-year increase of 75.4%, setting a new quarterly delivery high. In this quarter, NIO ranked first in China's pure electric vehicle market with more than 300,000 customers, with a market share of 45%.

However, it is obvious that the battery swap station business is far from reaching the profit and loss line. The first-generation NIO Phone has only been shipped in small quantities and is still in the investment stage.

▲ NIO Phone

The NIO Phone starts at 6,999 yuan. With similar configurations, it is the most expensive domestic Android phone. Of course, it is indeed a flagship in terms of configuration and design. Weilai's 500-person mobile phone team has delivered such an answer on its first product, which is already an extraordinary performance.

Unlike the outside world's expectation of "buying a NIO car and getting a NIO mobile phone", NIO does not regard the mobile phone business as an additional business, but hopes that it will create positive profits.

When NIO Phone was released, Li Bin said that NIO has 5 million car owners, half of whom are willing to buy NIO Phone every three years, so NIO's mobile phone business will have gross profits and can continue to develop. To put it into perspective, Li Bin’s expectation is that the annual shipment volume of NIO Phone that can make money is around 1 million. In the long run, it is only a business worth several billion a year. Now NIO sells cars every month. The revenue has reached 10 to 20 billion yuan.

What is puzzling is that when Huawei and Xiaomi participated in the car-making movement, even Apple, which has been building cars but has never been able to build them, everyone thought it was natural and reasonable, but it was difficult for car manufacturers to make mobile phones. Everyone understands.

From the perspective of user value alone, there is no objection to manufacturing mobile phones and cars at the same time, and opening up experience and service links so that the two products that accompany users the longest can be seamlessly connected.

NIO Phone can use UWB technology to judge the distance between the phone and the car to unlock the door, turn on the air conditioner in advance, open the trunk, remote control parking, etc. Through the independent NIO Link car control button, users can achieve faster and more diverse controls, as well as When the NIO Phone is placed on the island in the ES8, the NIO Phone will automatically turn into a control screen to adjust music, air conditioning, ambient lighting, in addition to navigation relay, video projection and other seamless functions.

Together with Hongmeng Cockpit and Flyme Auto, NIO Phone and NIO’s hand-car interconnection are undoubtedly the best in the industry.

Different paths lead to the same destination.

But Nio is like this. Everything it does needs more explanations.

Such as battery replacement.

On the eve of NIO Day in 2023, NIO fulfilled its commitment to build 1,000 new power swap stations in 2023 ahead of schedule. The 1,000th power swap station located in the Shaanxi Natural Museum at the end of the year seems to be a congratulatory gift to the NIO Day held in Xi'an two days later. So far, NIO has built a total of 2,305 power swap stations, ranging from Mudanjiang in the east, Sanya in the south, Changji in the west, and Changji in the north. As of Daqing, the coverage rate of battery swap stations within 3 kilometers of users' permanent residence is 80.36%.

Weilai is the manufacturer with the most self-built charging stations and battery swapping stations among all car companies. It now has 5,800 charging and swapping stations. It is the only company with self-built charging stations by Xpeng, Tesla, Jikrypton, Aion, Feifan and Lili. The quantity and scale are roughly the same.

BYD, which now sells more than 300,000 cars a month, has not established self-operated charging piles. Interestingly, the number of BYD cars charging at NIO’s charging piles open to the public is the same as NIO’s.

Before signing power swap cooperation agreements with Changan Automobile and Geely Automobile respectively, NIO's power swap business was not promising for a long time.

In 2015, Li Bin went to the United States to find Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning and wanted him to be the CEO of NIO's North American R&D team. However, they had great differences on the power swap strategy, and in the end neither could convince the other.

In 2013, Tesla demonstrated the swappable battery function of the Model S at a press conference, but in the end Tesla abandoned this design and changed it to charging only.

In fact, battery swapping is not something that Li Bin needs to convince Marc Tarpenning, but something that NIO needs to convince the whole world.

This is another puzzling phenomenon: the vast majority of people who are hesitant to buy pure electric models will have range anxiety, queues at charging stations, and worries about the charging market being too long. NIO’s battery swap station is the closest in experience to , and can even surpass the energy replenishment experience of gasoline trucks.

NIO's third-generation power swap station comes standard with 2 Orin-X, the industry's most powerful smart driving chip, and 2 lidar to achieve the functions of summoning power swap and automatic parking. The third-generation power swap station can store 21 Each battery replacement takes only 5 minutes, and each battery replacement station can serve up to 408 times a day. The battery swapping time of the fourth-generation NIO battery swap station will be further reduced, and the daily service limit can reach 480 times.

If you play a numbers game, NIO’s battery swap station is a wonderful business: the 120KW charging station on the market is equipped with 8 charging piles, and can serve less than 200 trams per day at most, and its service capacity is less than half of NIO’s third-generation battery swap station. , but the area occupied is 2 times.

For a long time, Weilai's battery swap has been like a hardware iOS or Windows Phone system, incompatible with the outside world, closed, and a winner or a loser.

Either become the iOS of the energy industry, sell more cars, build more battery swap stations, keep the battery swap stations busy, and finally achieve break-even: now the average load of NIO's battery swap stations (35 battery swaps per day), only profit and loss About half of the power cords (need to be replaced 60 times a day), quite leisurely.

Either it will become the Windows Phone in the energy industry, with cars unable to be sold and no one going to battery replacement stations, unable to achieve effective use of funds and resources, and ultimately becoming a failed ecosystem.

Now Weilai has a third option: to become the Android of the energy industry, open it up, and play with more players.

Both Changan Automobile and Geely Automobile are much larger than NIO. They respectively reached a battery swap cooperation agreement with NIO in the second half of this year. They will work on battery swap standards, battery swap technology, battery swap service network construction and operation, Comprehensive cooperation will be carried out in various fields such as the research and development and customization of battery-swap models, battery asset management and operations, and the establishment of two major battery-swap standard systems for "private cars" and "commercial vehicles".

Explicitly, under the "More Than Cars" menu on NIO's official website, there are NIO House, NIO Life, NIO Power, NIO Service, and NIO Phone. Each one is bright and beautiful, and it is the leader in the industry. Traditional car companies regard it as a scrap business. In the peripheral e-commerce business, NIO Life has achieved an excellent level. Whether it is product quality or SKU types, it is the only level in the industry. More than one colleague who participated in the NIO press conference gave feedback, and NIO provided The snacks are delicious.

Implicitly, NIO has a lot of cooperation with more than 300 partners in research and development, has invested in more than 80 companies, and has property rights cooperation with dozens of universities.

For example, on December 17, NIO founder Li Bin and Vice President Shen Fei took turns driving an ET7 equipped with a 150KWh battery from Shanghai to Xiamen. They did not charge or change batteries along the way, and finally ran 1,044 kilometers. After that, the battery has 3% charge left.

This battery does not come from battery giant CATL or Sino-Sino Aviation, but is provided by solid-state battery company Beijing Weilan New Energy. NIO, Xiaomi, Huawei and Geely are the investors behind it. Industry insiders estimate that the energy density of this NCM solid-liquid hybrid battery is close to 360Wh/kg, which is more than twice the energy density of ordinary lithium iron phosphate batteries, and the cost may reach 300,000 yuan.

Obviously, there are huge costs behind NIO’s live show.

In all kinds of things, both visible and invisible, what Weilai has done can be said to be the broadest among domestic brands. Of course, Li Bin also has the highest brand dream.

Compared with other car brands, NIO's "independence" is obviously stronger. The best embodiment of this autonomy and the dream of the highest brand is naturally the just-released ET9.

Untimely ET9, a press conference one year ahead of the times

A media person at the 2023 NIO Day in Xi'an said: When Li Bin said that the pre-sale price of ET9 was 800,000 yuan, the whole audience took a breath of cold air, as if they were trying to vacuum up the already cold venue.

A domestically produced executive flagship car priced at 800,000 yuan seems a bit out of place.

What is the appropriate thing to do?

The price of the Jiyue 01 was reduced by RMB 30,000 for the whole series just one month after it was launched; the 2023 Feifan F7 is priced at RMB 279,900, but the 2024 model will only sell for RMB 189,900…

Everyone is teaching Zhang Xiaolong how to make products, and everyone is teaching Li Bin how to be a CEO. The ideas they come up with are not new, such as adding a progress bar to the voice, and launching some cheap models to increase momentum.

The so-called ET9 feels too expensive to sell for 800,000 yuan, which is more like a kind of emotional lack of confidence: I use 800,000 yuan to buy a BMW X5, and the X5 speaks for me. I use 800,000 yuan to buy a NIO ET9, and I still have to speak for NIO. .

To put it bluntly, it is a face issue, not a product issue.

Once you focus on the products and technology of ET9, you will find that the price of 800,000 yuan seems reasonable. Of course, when it is officially launched, the actual price is expected to be less than 800,000 yuan.

Because the appearance design of ET9 is mediocre, it seems that the release of ET9 is more like the release of the technology equipped with ET9, showing NIO's technology accumulation and implementation capabilities. NIO’s official description is that ET9 brings together more than 100 full-stack technology crystallizations and world-leading technologies, including 17 world-first technologies, 52 leading technologies at the same level, and 525 patent applications.

▲ SkyRide Tianxing fully active suspension

The technical highlights of ET9 on the actual car can be said to be ahead of the times:

  • SkyRide Tianxing fully active suspension: the world's first integrated hydraulic active suspension system that combines intelligence and high integration, one generation ahead of the third-generation Panamera suspension.
  • Tianxing Chassis System is currently the only fully wire-controlled intelligent chassis in the world that integrates three core hardware systems. It is composed of three core hardware components: fully active suspension, wire-controlled steering and rear-wheel steering.
  • Self-developed China's first 5nm high-end smart driving chip – Shenji NX903, self-developed image signal processor ISP, and self-developed inference acceleration unit NPU, the computing and storage resources are completely pooled, realizing cross-domain computing for smart driving and cockpit Sharing of resources.
  • ET9 is the world's first vehicle to adopt a full-range 900V high-voltage platform. The 900V customized silicon carbide motor has the highest power density in the industry. The self-developed 900V 46105 battery pack is matched with NIO's 640kW liquid-cooled fast charging station. It can be charged in 5 minutes and has a range of 255 kilometers.

In addition, there are many exclusive executive flagship sedan comfort, safety and high-end configurations: four-seat layout, first-ever MicroLED intelligent high-pixel headlights, self-formal floating wheel mark design, gliding executive seats with full-body relaxation & full-area heating & Directional massage, active noise reduction headrests, the largest size and space in its class, body-in-white torsional stiffness of 52600Nm/Deg, more redundant sensor configuration…

These selling points that are one year or more ahead of existing products do seem a bit early in 2023. After all, ET9 will not be officially delivered until 2025.

Even the font of the NIO Day press conference Keynote is specially customized by NIO and fits the characteristics of NIO's brand.

The third puzzling phenomenon emerged: NIO built a car worth 800,000 yuan, but many people felt that NIO was not worthy of selling a car worth 800,000 yuan.

It's like a chicken-and-egg contradiction. Should domestic car brands start from a low starting point like the G3 like Xiaopeng and gradually move up to the G9 and X9, or should they start from the EP9 and ES8 like Weilai? Start at a high point, intersperse popular models like ET5 and ES6, and then have a model like ET9 that continues to make breakthroughs?

Only time will tell the answer, but NIO’s attempts always make sense.

We are always used to domestic brands being humble and small, then working hard and slowly getting ahead. This is a typical way for Chinese brands to break through. This is the case in the mobile phone industry, including Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo. It took almost 10 years to finally be able to sell mobile phones for 5,000 yuan with peace of mind.

Cars are similar, every step forward is like walking on thin ice. Geely Emgrand and others sell for more than 100,000, Lynk & Co takes half a step forward, most sell for 150,000-200,000, and there is Ji Krypton that continues to sell for around 250,000. try.

NIO is the manufacturer most determined to break through the 300,000 barrier and face BBA head-on. It is also one of the manufacturers that has achieved the best breakthrough. Maybe NIO has some Quixote-like courage and wants to fight BBA on every front.

A brand is a consensus that needs to be gathered, and a brand is also an illusion that needs to be broken.

The Toyota Sienna MPV still requires a price increase of thousands of dollars and a year's wait in the United States. In China, due to the abundant supply of MPVs, there are many choices. The Toyota Sienna is just one of many choices.

In the past, Lexus had to increase the price and wait before picking up the car in China, but now it has also begun to reduce prices.

Only with more supply and choices will brand value gradually emerge and return. Domestic cars have gone through the thorny stage and entered the stage of winning with technology and products. We still need some time to build such a brand consensus.

We still hope that NIO will win

There is a popular meme in the sports circle recently: Northern Expedition. Many sports giants are now in the middle and lower reaches of the standings, such as Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League, such as the Lakers and Warriors. Fans hope that these giant teams can win every game step by step and eventually jump to the top of the standings.

At the same time, there is another "Northern Expedition" meme on the Internet. On platforms such as Zhihu, many people ask: If Zhuge Liang is given 100,000 college students, can the Prime Minister succeed in the Northern Expedition? / If Zhuge Liang is given an unlimited supply of instant noodles, can the Prime Minister succeed in the Northern Expedition? / If Zhuge Liang was given a fully functional mobile phone, could the Prime Minister succeed in the Northern Expedition?

NIO seems to be facing a double "Northern Expedition" situation: on the one hand, NIO is not high on the sales list; on the other hand, everyone likes to give NIO ideas too much.

Interestingly, Xi'an, the venue for 2023 NIO Day, happens to be the end point of Zhuge Liang's Northern Expedition in history, although this venue was voted for by the people of Xi'an.

In the Northern Expedition of Weilai, there was actually no "Plan of Ziwu Valley", only "Six Expeditions from Qishan", and they suffered repeated defeats.

In an interview after NIO Day, Li Bin said:

I think Chinese car brands will eventually be able to achieve technological and brand improvement, but this process will be longer than everyone thinks. Therefore, we must maintain concentration and patience, and avoid turning back during this process.

Li Bin certainly knows that it is very difficult to challenge BBA in the D-class car market. Even the attack on B-class and C-class cars has hit a wall one after another. The combined sales of ET7 in the past six months have been less than 3,000 units.

But Weilai and Li Bin may be the most optimistic brands and founders about time. Li Bin believes that the final round of the automotive industry will not start until 2025, and the end time is unknown. By 2035, China will account for 5 of the world's top 10 car companies. Hope NIO can have a place.

Musk has expressed a more radical view: Tesla may lead the world's top 10 car companies in the future, followed by nine Chinese car companies.

Also competing in the promotion round like Weilai, trying to enter the finals is Xiaopeng. Not long ago, He Xiaopeng, the founder of Xpeng Motors, posted a message on Moments:

In the automotive field, everyone must ultimately achieve multiple functions in the fields of technology, industry, trade, services, and finance.

If we look at the six dimensions of technology, processing, trade, service, brand, and finance, Weilai's progress in 2023 is actually quite good. ET9 shows off its technology and bought the Jianghuai factory to obtain independent car manufacturing qualifications. It is the leading service in the country. capabilities, a resolute and progressive brand, as well as the US$2.2 billion increase in holdings from Abu Dhabi Fund at the end of the year, as well as NIO's crazy investment in infrastructure, which are all good news, and they are all investments waiting for returns.

In the automotive industry, Li Bin and He Xiaopeng are the two most congenial people. He Xiaopeng’s circle of friends seems to be helping Li Bin explain NIO’s strategies and tactics from another perspective.

Because Li Bin really explained too much, NIO’s boundaries, NIO’s investment and return cycle, and NIO’s understanding of the competitive situation, it seems that it finally fell into the six words of “technology, industry, trade, clothing, goods, and wealth”.

It's just that Weilai chose the most difficult all-out attack instead of defeating them one by one.

After all, the reason why everyone likes to teach Li Bin to be CEO so much is because they hope that Weilai will win, that China's automobiles will become more high-end, and that elegant and intelligent domestic electric cars will run as many times as possible, all over the world.

Because it is correct, it is successful, not because it is successful, it is correct.

In the plastic greenhouse of fate, every cabbage that has been sprayed with too many pesticides once had a dream of becoming a pollution-free organic vegetable.

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