"It's definitely most efficient to use one team to lead autonomous driving R&D," local media quoted an employee as saying.

Zhang Jianyong, Nio's Associate Vice President (AVP) of autonomous driving and head of autonomous driving systems engineering, is said to be leaving the company. Now, a report from local tech media outlet 36kr provides more details.

William Li, founder, chairman and CEO of Nio (NYSE: NIO, HKG: 9866), recently hosted a meeting to express his appreciation for Zhang's dedication at the company, 36kr said today, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Zhang intends to participate in a chip project startup, and Li has expressed clear investment intentions, the report said. This echoes a report on Wednesday by XEV Lab, a media outlet focused on the smart car industry, that Nio Capital is interested in investing in his project. Li is the Managing Partner of Nio Capital.

(Zhang Jianyong. Image credit: Nio App.)

Nio's algorithm team has more than 400 people, and Zhang's departure will involve the integration of nearly 1,000 people in the business if the hardware team is counted, 36kr's report said.

Nio's autonomous driving business has four teams, including a hardware team headed by Bai Jian, an operating system and data security team headed by Wang Qiyan, an algorithm team headed by Ren Shaoqing, and a system engineering team headed by Zhang Jianyong, all of whom report directly to Li, according to the report.

Zhang leads an autonomous driving systems team of nearly 400 people, which includes operations including system integration, sensor development including cameras, autonomous driving fleet operations, simulation platforms, and algorithms.

Nio's initial integration plan is to have the sensor and underlying software-related businesses merged into Bai's team, with the operations business temporarily independent and the rest of the business integrated into the autonomous driving algorithm, according to 36kr.

After the self-driving systems team was merged into the self-driving algorithm team, many people faced demotion of their positions, thus sparking some controversy within the company, according to the report.

However, from a big-picture perspective, Zhang's departure and the reorganization of the team is not necessarily a bad thing, an unnamed Nio employee told 36kr, adding, "It's definitely most efficient to use one team to lead self-driving R&D."

Although Zhang's team is responsible for systems engineering, its team business is actually complex because it has gone through various periods of Nio's autonomous driving business.

As Nio sorts out its structure and implements a modular management approach, Zhang's complexly composed team is inevitably hit, according to 36kr.

In the conference call following the announcement of its fourth-quarter earnings report on March 25, Li said Nio will more than double its R&D investment in 2022 compared to 2021, and its R&D team will reach 9,000 by the end of this year.

The company will continue to increase R&D investment in key technologies in the coming years, especially in areas related to full-stack autonomous driving technology and power batteries, Li said.