Global Supertrends Conference 2021

Closing keynote with CNBC’s Managing Asia – Driving climate change: Electric vehicles overtake the auto industry

The transition to Electric Vehicles (EV) is touted as a key solution to the global goal of net-zero emissions. As the world’s biggest EV market, China will have profound impact on green transportation innovation.

In a special episode of CNBC Managing Asia at the Global Supertrends Conference 2021, CNBC Asia Anchor Christine Tan spoke with William Li, Founder, Chairman and CEO of China-based NIO, a leading EV player listed on the New York Stock Exchange, who shared his insights on the growth opportunities and challenges in the EV industry globally, their business philosophy and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in China.

Building a community

Three reasons motivated Mr. Li to start NIO in 2012: To help address bad air quality in China, to improve the user experience for car buyers, and innovate in the automotive sector by creating smart software batteries.

Mr. Li surprised us on the vision fuelling NIO’s growth, “We want to build a community starting with our cars, but our emphasis is on building a community where we can enjoy growth together.”

Betting on battery swapping

Betting on battery swapping as the superior business model, NIO allows users to conveniently swap depleted batteries for a new one at a “power swap station”. Battery swapping makes it more time efficient for users, eliminating the waiting time to charge an EV at a public charging station.

NIO has completed over 3 million battery swaps to date, which only takes a few minutes to complete. The company plans to build up to 4,000 power swap stations globally by end 2025, each serving up to 1,000 users, reaching 4 million users in total.

Eyeing a global presence

In 2021, NIO embarked on its overseas expansion with its entry into Norway. The company’s success in China’s automotive market – one of the most fiercely competitive in the world – gave Mr. Li the confidence to expand globally. The company already had a global presence before its foray into Norway in the form of Research and Development teams in Germany, the UK and the US.

In recent years, the company has worked to burnish its reputation globally. Before its IPO in 2018, NIO already had 50 investors hailing from different countries around the world.

Growing in Europe

However, Mr. Li acknowledged that further expansion in Europe is a challenging task that will require patience and a long-term mindset. The key is not to focus on sales, he noted, but rather on developing products and services that satisfy the needs of customers.

NIO is also evaluating opportunities to enter the US markets eventually, although the company requires “more time to define the details,” revealed Mr. Li.

Overcoming adversity

Despite its current success, it has not been all smooth sailing for NIO since its inception nine years ago. The company only managed to raise half of what it had aimed for during its IPO in the US in 2018, at a time when tensions between China and the US were escalating. The firm also faced a battery recall that required it to replace the batteries in almost 5,000 of its cars in 2019.

However, NIO pulled through by focusing on meeting its customers’ needs. At the height of its problems in Q4 2019, the company delivered over 8,000 cars, which helped to ease its cash flow problems.

Entrepreneurial success in China

Mr. Li shared his philosophy on being a successful entrepreneur in China, “For companies to succeed, it is like sowing a seed, and growing the seed into a big tree. You need good soil, and you also need good timing.” Operating in fast-growing China represented good soil. While this period was good timing in gaining market leadership as early innovator in the auto industry.

Beyond these factors, an entrepreneur must have creativity, an innovative mindset, perseverance and ambition. He elaborated, “The aspiration I’m talking about is not about getting more money, but having a vision that makes the world better. Those are all important. A sprinkling of luck is also vital.”

Mr. Li imprints his clear purpose of customer satisfaction, “We constantly ask ourselves whether we are creating value for our users; are we really helping our users to shape a joyful lifestyle? Once the product and services are well received by the users, sales will come naturally.”

A passionate innovator with conviction and ambition, driving ahead to create a cleaner, happier future.