Chinese carmaker Nio has insisted it isn’t considering creating a dealer network to sell its vehicles in Europe, despite media speculation to the contrary.
The electric car manufacturer sells its vehicles via a direct-sales model and doesn’t rely on a traditional dealer network like other Chinese car brands such as BYD and GWM Ora.
It has already launched in Norway, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands over the past two years, and is pencilling in a UK arrival for late 2024.
Rumours swelled last month that Nio was considering signing agreements with dealers and setting up a network, due to finding ‘peculiarities’ in the European market it hadn’t foreseen.
But switching to a dealer retail model would lose Nio’s ‘control’ over the ‘user experience’, UK boss and European head of sales Matt Galvin has told Car Dealer.
‘Certainly, within Europe, the strategy is very clear – it’s a direct sales business,’ he said.
‘The reason for that is that ultimately being a user-centric business means we need to have ultimate control over that user experience.
‘That’s very difficult when you’re introducing third parties or agents or whatever you want to call them – you don’t have that control.
‘That’s one of the reasons why the direct-sales model for Neo is so important.’
Upmarket brand Genesis launched a direct-sales model in the UK in 2020, but earlier this year it revealed it would launch a small dealer network to boost sales brand awareness. Its European boss denied it was a U-turn.
Galvin didn’t rule out changing tack in the future, or potentially leasing land or premises from established dealers. But for the time being, the strategy is not to partner with dealers for showrooms.
He added: ‘Never say never, but right now the focus is not to use retailers and to concentrate on direct sales, and honing that to a point where we can really deliver experiences beyond expectations, which is our brand’s DNA.’
Galvin and his team are prepping for a late 2024 launch in Britain. Initially, only the Mercedes EQE SUV-rivalling EL6 will be arriving on UK shores, and it’ll be sold primarily through finance packages.
Nio will also give customers the option to buy the car outright, and offer subscription packages costing around £1,000 a month.
In markets where Nio has already launched, it relies on a network of sales and service ‘hubs’, battery-swap stations (which can swap a depleted battery for another fully charged one within five minutes) and Apple Store-like ‘Nio Houses’ where people can relax, hold meetings with colleagues and listen to talks.
Galvin said this network of hubs and battery-swap centres needed to be established before the brand began selling the EL6 to Brits.
‘It’s so important that we have the infrastructure ready,’ he said. ‘That’s not just battery swapping, it’s points of sale and aftersales provision. It’s those kinds of things that we need to have right from day one.
‘New brands have a tough enough job of becoming established, especially when they’re under the scrutiny of media and early adopters who use social media as a platform to talk about experiences.
‘It’s really important for me that when we do launch Nio in the UK, everything’s ready to go. And if someone has a problem, it can be dealt with very quickly.’
A ‘Nio House’ will be part of the plan, but ‘maybe not from launch’. Of more importance are the battery-swap centres.
‘The battery-swap feature is kind of answering the question everyone’s been asking, which is “give me an electric car that I can charge as quickly as I can refuel a petrol car, and then I’m interested” – well, we can help.
‘This is one of the communication points that we need to really amplify from the get-go,’ said Galvin.