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Electric cars:- New energy vehicles charge through the battery barrier in China

Battery life should not be seen as a barrier for the introduction of new energy vehicles (NEV) was the message from William Li, founder of premium Chinese electric carmaker NIO. Li, who is also nicknamed ‘China’s Elon Musk’, was speaking at the tech start-up conference Slush in Helsinki earlier this month.

When asked about battery technology development, the CEO and chairman of NIO emphasised that the most important aspect is the battery charging experience. “Nowadays people do not have anxiety about their smartphone batteries. If you compare battery technologies from ten years ago, there is not much advancement in the battery technology arena,” he explained.

When asked about battery technology development, William Li, CEO, founder and chaiman of NIO, emphasised that the most important aspect is the battery charging experience.

When asked about battery technology development, William Li, CEO, founder and chaiman of NIO, emphasised that the most important aspect is the battery charging experience. Chinanews.com

The introduction of power banks to charge devices mean that smartphones can remain slim and practical, thereby ensuring a good user experience. NIO have taken a similar approach through the introduction of services that complement the battery life and further improve driving range, such as battery swap stations and mobile charging systems built into vans that rove the city.

At the company’s annual NIO Day 2018 on December 15 in Shanghai, the Chinese electric automaker announced that by the end of the year they will have completed a nationwide service network consisting of over 160 service outlets across China—a number set to surpass 300 in 2019—in order to meeting growing user demand.

William Li stated that they had also just finished installing 18 battery swap stations along the 2,200-km-long Jinggang’ao Expressway that connects Beijing and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province. “You can detect our swap stations as fast as a traditional car, so it’s a three-minute charge and then continue. We must have these kinds of innovation to give our users a better experience,” he said.

The driving distance on a single charge of the firm’s current vehicle line-up ranges from 355 km for the six-seater ES8 SUV, 427 km for the EP9 two-seat sports car and over 510 km for the new five-seater ES6 SUV which had its world premiere on NIO Day. Sales of the ES8 began in June and, as of mid-December, 9,726 have been delivered in China.

Batteries battle the winter climate

Founded in 2014, NIO made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange in September this year and raised US$1 billion in an initial public offering (IPO), valuing it at US$6.4bn. It has become one of China’s major domestic companies in the NEV industry, competing with Xpeng Motors Technology and Byton, as well as established foreign brands such as Tesla.

China has been the world’s largest NEV market since 2015, with sales and production experiencing rapid growth due to government support through tax exemptions and purchase discounts. 860,000 NEV vehicles were sold in the first ten months of 2018, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, and they estimate the figure will exceed a million by the year’s end.

However, there are only approximately 214,000 public charging stations in China meaning that one of the biggest problems remains availability, says Li Zhao, vice president of Bepsun Eurotech Investment. Her employer is responsible for the market development of their investment company in Finland and their clients include manufacturing firms working with NEV.

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“Because Beijing is a huge city and there is, for example, always traffic jams, people need to worry about whether they can reach a charging system,” highlights Li in a conversation with gbtimes.com at Slush in Helsinki. She adds that customers also don’t want to change the batteries every couple of years and worry about battery life, especially during the winter which sees average temperatures drop to -4 C in January in the Chinese capital.

“We are now actively searching for the technology which can offer battery protection in low temperatures […] It is very difficult to drive in the north and northeast part of China because the battery will drain fast,” says Li. Additionally, when temperatures soar to 40C during the summer, the air conditioner is switched on and will drain the battery even faster.

Finland, who is no stranger to sub-zero temperatures, has quite a good charging algorithm for lithium-ion batteries, notes Li, who also reveals that there have been some good studies regarding the materials in the Nordic country. “These are some areas in which we have been actively working. Finland also has quite good technologies for the generators, so these are the key areas,” she adds.

Bepsun has clients who make charging stations and they are looking for different types of flexible charging options for future vehicles. “In China we don’t really call them electric vehicles, we call the industry ‘new energy vehicles’ because we are also looking for options other than electric. For example, there might be other chemical materials that could be used for the battery,” she explains.

“From the environmental point of view, if the battery works longer, lasts longer and if the management system works smoothly then we have less waste,” says Li, underlining the Chinese government’s strong backing of the industry and their aim to reduce pollution through policies encouraging the purchase of NEV cars.

A combination of supportive national policy, innovative battery manufacturers and firms like NIO establishing networks of charging stations, the future of new energy vehicles looks positive and able to overcome any barrier.