Meet NextEV, the Formula E team taking the fight to Tesla
In 2016, road car manufacturers such as Audi, Jaguar and BMW are rushing towards Formula E to showcase their EV technology, but late last month we saw a company move in the opposite direction. At an event in London’s Saatchi gallery, the NextEV Formula E team unveiled the NIO EP9, an electric hypercar designed to showcase the team’s racing technology.
The NIO EP9 is essentially a glorified engineering project, but it might also be the beginning a new automotive force designed to take on the likes of Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and more.
Unveiled last month, the NIO EP9 is designed to be a road car with racing pedigree – so it’s like NextEV’s version of the McLaren F1. The EP9 uses four motors for a combined output of 1,360PS, and can hit 0-200km/h or 124mph in 7.1 seconds. Interestingly, NextEV has also opted to channel that power to the wheels via four separate gearboxes.
Despite its speed, NextEV promises the EP9 will have a usable amount of range too. The new car will use an interchangeable battery system that gives a projected range of 427km – but could only take 45 minutes to charge. For handling reasons, the batteries powering the EP9 have been kept low and tend to be along the side of the car, between the wheels.
The EP9’s chassis draws on NextEV’s Formula E experience, so it’s made from carbon fibre, and capable of withstanding 3G while cornering. As you can probably tell from looking at it, the EP9 extracts a large amount downforce from its bodywork – but it’s still relatively efficient. The car has a top speed of 323km/h, but still generates a huge 24,000 newtons of downforce at 240km/h.
The EP9 has been tested by NextEV’s Oliver Turvey and Nelson Piquet Jr – the very first Formula E champion – and recently smashed the EV lap record around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. In October of this year, the EP9 lapped the Green Hell with a laptime of 7:05.12.
“The NIO EP9 was born to push limits, and is the first stage of automotive production for NIO. It is a statement of our vision and technical and manufacturing capabilities,” said NextEV chairman and founder, William Li, at the event. “It’s a statement of our vision and technical and manufacturing capabilities. It’s a best-in-class product that showcases what is possible with electric vehicles.”
A new manufacturer
The electric supercar has been done several times now, first by Faraday Future, then by Porsche with the Mission E among many others – so in many respects the EP9 isn’t that special. However, the story here isn’t necessarily about the unveiling of a new electric concept car – but the emergence of a new carmaker.
NextEV or NIO is a Chinese giant, and it could soon have capital and the expertise to become a serious competitor in the EV space. In many ways it’s seemingly come out of nowhere, but a closer looks reveals it might already have some useful instructure and expertise in place.[gallery:2]
In 2016, Formula E is where manufacturers want to showcase their EV technology, and that’s why the series now includes teams with backing from BMW, Audi and Jaguar – with the possibility of a Mercedes entry soon. However, NextEV is in Formula E already, and won the first Formula E driver’s championship in 2015.
NextEV also has more than 2,000 employees around the world, and has been granted an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit by the California DMV. That puts it in a pretty exclusive club, and suggests that it wants to compete not just in the EV market, but in the car tech space in general.
Finally, there’s the question of cold hard cash. A company like this needs backing to succeed, but with investors including Temasek, Sequoia Capital, TPG and Lenovo, there’s every chance it will have the financial clout to achieve its founder and chairman’s aims.[gallery:5]
Li says the next step for NIO will be an electric saloon unveiled in 2017, and that’s the car that will really decide how well the company does. When NIO’s first production car does launch, it will have to compete with new electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3, and the soon-to-be-shown Faraday Future road car. Whatever happens, it’s clear the next 12 months will be an interesting time for NIO and the EV market as a whole.