William Li, the founder of NIO, shared his thoughts on founding NIO and his plans for the future in a recent talk at an event in Beijing.
Here is the full text of his speech translated by cnEVpost.
My name is William Li. I founded Bitauto in 2000, one of the first automotive websites.
I have grown up with the automotive industry and the Internet industry in my main entrepreneurial experience.
In the ten years since I started Bitauto, I have been looking at the development of the whole industry from the user's perspective and have many insights.
2012 was a crucial year when I thought about how the mobile Internet would change the automotive industry, whether it was technology, business models, or the way to serve users.
In 2012, I proposed the concept of Auto 3.0 and Brand 3.0, believing that the mobile Internet would profoundly change the relationship between users, enterprises, and brands, and I called the enterprises before the emergence of the Internet 1.0.
After the emergence of the Internet, the relationship between the user and the brand is a two-way interaction, which is 2.0.
I think the era of mobile Internet is 3.0, the user sightseeing involved in the enterprise will also own part of the enterprise.
I believe that such a business form is a community with a certain product and service, which may be the ultimate form of consumer-oriented brands.
There is also a huge opportunity in the automotive industry, and this is a new way to really change the industry. This is also the starting point for me to think about users and businesses.
If you just focus on the changes in technology, innovative companies can do it, and so can all the companies that came before. For example, connected cars, even self-driving cars, electric cars.
If you take into account the way you serve your users, innovative companies have a chance.
At that time, I already had the idea of starting an automotive company, and I asked myself the question of what we could do that the current automotive giants couldn't do.
If we just focus on the technology of the car, we cannot fully answer such a question. If we take into account the whole business model reconstruction, the way to serve users, I think there is a great opportunity for start-ups.
This is what I thought in 2012, and it also informs some of NIO's business practices in the past few years, which are user-centered business practices.
NIO is not just a car company, we are a community that starts with cars, a community that shares joy and grows together, an idea that first started in 2012.
The positioning or vision of a user-oriented company has informed the development of NIO, which we started in late 2014.
In 2015, when we decided what kind of company we wanted to be, we made it very clear that our mission and vision was to become a user-oriented company. That's what we've been practicing for the past few years.
This kind of originality has also saved NIO.
In 2019, when we had the toughest time, our users also rewarded us by choosing to believe in and support NIO during our toughest time.
In the fourth quarter of last year, we delivered more than 8,000 vehicles, giving the company back billions of RMB in cash flow, which was a matter of life and death for NIO at the time.
Who saved NIO? It was the users who saved NIO.
This is inseparable from our commitment to building a user-oriented company and providing a great experience to our users.
This is one of our attempts or innovations in the past ten years that I would like to share, which is the mission and vision of a "user-oriented enterprise".
The automotive industry is undergoing one of the biggest technological changes in the past 100 years, and smart electric vehicles have become the consensus of the entire automotive industry in terms of technology development.
Software-defined cars, autonomous driving, and electrification are undoubtedly the keywords that every automotive company is competing with each other.
When I had the idea of starting an automotive company in 2012, I did not hesitate to choose the direction of intelligent electric vehicles. This has a lot to do with the environment at that time.
In 2012, when the haze in China was very serious, everyone with ambition should have a sense of mission to make their own contribution to the environment and emission reduction through their own efforts.
That's why the name NIO is also related to this. The name NIO means "Blue Sky Coming", which is also the original intention at that time.
After so many years of development, I am glad to see that electric cars are getting more and more attention.
Initially, users were ridiculed for driving electric cars. But in the second half of 2020, China saw a very big jump in electric car sales compared to the same period last year.
One big driver behind this is that individual users are becoming more and more likely to buy.
The infrastructure of electric vehicles in China has been very much improved in the past few years, charging and battery swap are becoming more and more convenient, and indeed the experience of using electric vehicles is getting better and better.
Another important technical basis for smart electric vehicles is intelligent, software-defined vehicles.
NIO has been investing in intelligent R&D from the very beginning as a very important task, and we have developed our own digital cockpit, automatically assisted driving, and intelligent software parts of the automatic system.
NIO is also the first production car in the world to use chips, about a year ahead of the industry.
NIO is also working hard to develop our next-generation intelligent platform, which will be available to everyone in the near future.
The ultimate form of smart electric vehicle products is still in the process of formation, and I believe that in the next few years we will see truly revolutionary smart electric vehicle products.
I also want to share with you how to build a high-end car brand from China.
In 2014 and 2015, we spent a long time discussing when we decided to position our brand.
We finally decided to directly benchmark ourselves against the mainstream high-end market like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi, and launch a premium brand of Chinese origin.
This was actually a big risk at that time, because before us, the average price of Chinese car brands was relatively low overall, and the middle and high-end markets were undoubtedly occupied by foreign brands.
China has become the world's largest car producer and the largest car consumer market. If a car brand does not succeed in China, it will be difficult to succeed globally.
China has also produced a very large number of outstanding companies, but there has not been a successful premium brand.
In 2014 and 2015, we decided to seize the opportunity of the technological change of intelligent electric vehicles to make a premium brand and redefine the user experience of cars.
We did take a big risk, a Chinese brand's products are so expensive, don't be hot you think we are simply crazy. But from the results now, we are still very happy that we have done this.
We in the current ES8, ES6, EC6 average terminal sales price is more than 400,000 yuan RMB, already and Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi they are on a level. That's a little bit higher than Audi and almost on the same level as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Our average selling price is more than RMB 100,000 more expensive than Tesla's main sales model in China.
There is no doubt that our cars have an advantage over gasoline cars in the same price range in terms of performance, intelligence, and all aspects of the service experience.
Our quality also surpasses these cars in the new car quality ranking, ranking first for two consecutive years.
Not only has NIO made its initial practice of high-end branding in the automotive industry, but we have also seen the rise of Chinese products as a phenomenon in other consumer goods sectors.
This also reflects that after decades of development, the quality of Chinese products and the gold of Chinese brands are indeed getting higher and higher.
Many of our users and consumers, especially young consumers, are increasingly able to think rationally. They are able to judge the quality and technical content of products, instead of blindly thinking that foreign brands must be better than Chinese brands, which is also very welcome progress.
The last thing I want to share is how a Chinese company can build a global team.
When I decided to start my own business in 2014, I positioned myself in the high-end smart electric vehicle field. We had to answer the question at that time, who could make them?
At that time, I was thinking that the competition of cars is a global competition and we must have the best talents to make the best products.
So at that time we set up R&D teams in Europe, in Munich, in London, and set up design teams. We also set up an intelligent R&D team in Silicon Valley.
We recruited people around the world to work together to build a world-class product. This has definitely added a lot of challenges from a management point of view. But in terms of results, it has really significantly improved our R&D capabilities.
Our products have won many global awards, which is inseparable from our excellent global team.
NIO did not close its global offices during the most difficult time last year but remained committed to investing in technology.
The international situation has changed a lot in the past two years, and we have a solid foundation in China, which is a huge market.
But no matter what, we are going to participate in the international competition. Although it is a little more difficult now than in previous years, we have a market like China as a foundation and should have the determination to compete globally.
Our global management in the early stage has also laid a good foundation for us to enter the global market in the next step.
In the next ten years, we hope that NIO will not only achieve market success in China, but we also hope to have our own position in the global market of smart electric vehicles.
Although it is very difficult, we are still very confident.
(Cover photo source: cnEVpost)