Just Auto: 2021 was another memorable year for everyone and for all sorts of reasons. We had a bumpy recovery from the worst of the Covid pandemic, but the automotive industry was also hammered by a shortage of semiconductor parts. In your business, what stand out as the biggest challenges you faced this year?

Hui Zhang: Obviously, recent events have had significant impact across the industry. NIO has been able to weather the storm and recover well. Our online-to-offline (O2O) retail strategy during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed falling car sales that hit other brands hard – NIO car orders dropped by just 12 per cent compared to the market falling by 70 per cent. The semiconductor shortage meant a temporary halt to production in one of our factories early this year, but this was short term.

For NIO, the biggest challenge of 2021 has been pushing on with our sales strategy and launching our brand in Europe despite the issues affecting companies worldwide. China has been a great market for a brand such as NIO to grow, but our ambition is to be a truly global company. After announcing our intention to enter the Norwegian market in May 2021, we opened the doors to NIO House Oslo in September and began selling the NIO ES8. Norway is our first market entry outside of China.

While NIO has become renowned in China, as we enter new territories we face the challenge of establishing the brand and attracting the best talent to continue building the business. NIO was founded as a global start-up with global values, so we are well prepared to support our rapidly-expanding teams in new markets. We now have a very international feel to the company with more than 14,000 employees from around 50 different countries. We have built a small but diverse European team, with many attracted by NIO’s user-centric philosophy and technology concepts. Our most recent additions include studio directors Joaquin Garcia and Alister Whelan: Joaquin joins us from Seat and CUPRA, while Alister has over two decades of experience from Jaguar Land Rover.

JA: Any high spots or particular successes you’d like to share?

HZ: Delivering NIO models to our first customers in Norway has been the highlight of 2021 for the brand in Europe. The first batch of NIO cars left the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Port this summer and arrived with customers in September. As a company that has celebrated great achievements in China, we feel very proud to expand overseas and enter Europe.

Furthermore, we are excited to see the great reception NIO has received so far. A real sense of community has already started to build with NIO’s early adopters in Norway. Playing a key role in this is the NIO User Advisory Board. More than 650 Norwegians applied to become members, with 200 selected to support NIO’s integration into the market. They were the first to experience the NIO ES8 and offered advice and suggestions that helped shape our service, offering and operations within the market.

JA: How are you feeling about 2022 – both in terms of business prospects and more generally?

HZ: As we near the end of 2021, we are feeling very positive about 2022: we have lots in the planning. We are excited to grow our presence in Europe; to introduce our brand to new customers in new markets and empower a community of users to share joy and grow together. For 2022, Germany is a key territory for NIO and we are excited to have announced on NIO Day (18 December 2021) that we will also introduce NIO products and our user-centric service to the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark in 2022. By 2025, NIO will establish its presence in over 25 countries and regions worldwide.

Critical to our brand expansion is our product and technology offering, and we are confident in both. In 2022 we expect to deliver the NIO ET7 to customers – our first autonomous driving model and smart electric flagship sedan. It is a product we aim to bring to Europe in the near future, too, starting with Germany.

An important part of the owner experience for NIO is the holistic charging and battery swapping solutions. We have received approval from authorities in Norway to have our first Power Swap station in Lier, which is about 30 kilometres south of Oslo and is set to open imminently. We plan to have another 20 in Norway by the end of 2022, located in major cities and along busy transport routes.

Additionally, in November we announced a new partnership with Shell that will lead to further improvements to battery charging and swapping facilities for NIO users, both in China and Europe. As part of the plans, pilot stations will be constructed and operated in Europe from 2022, with 100 battery swapping stations to be installed in China by 2025. We want to ensure that it is as easy as possible to drive NIO cars and improving the infrastructure is a major part of this.

JA: Is anything emerging as a particular concern in terms of the outlook?

HZ: Managing NIO’s rapid growth will be a significant challenge that we need to handle carefully, ensuring we establish a good and strong foothold and deliver to our new NIO adopters in these markets.

JA: Do you have a message for Just Auto’s readers?

HZ: We thank all those that have supported and welcomed NIO to Europe. Taking a brand into new markets on new continents is a significant challenge and one we didn’t underestimate. To deliver our first European customer orders and see NIO models driving on European roads has been a monumental milestone in NIO’s short but incredibly fast-moving history.