-backed startup Zhixing will build cars based on the NT 3.0 platform, and the first vehicle will be an ultra-high-end off-road SUV priced at the RMB 1 million ($150,000) level, according to local media.

(Image credit: CnEVPost)

Nio (NYSE: NIO) is reportedly backing a startup using its technology to build high-end electric vehicles (EVs) aimed at the ultra-luxury off-road market, after the EV maker was rumored to be launching an ultra-luxury sedan a month ago.

The Nio-backed startup, called Zhixing (至星), which literally means reach for the stars, will focus on the adventure, off-road market, and its first vehicle will be an ultra-high-end SUV priced at the 1 million yuan ($150,000) level, according to a report Monday by local media outlet LatePost.

William Li, founder, chairman and CEO of Nio, has said internally that the project is incubated as Nio's strategic layout in that market segment, the report said.

Nio Capital, of which Li is the managing partner, will provide a seed round investment of tens of millions of dollars to the startup, according to the report.

Zhixing's first vehicle is expected to be launched in 2025 and will be available in overseas markets simultaneously. The car will be built on Nio's NT 3.0 platform and Zhixing will have deep cooperation with Nio in terms of technology platform, supply chain and charging system, the report said.

It is worth noting that Nio Capital had a stake in Geely's majority-owned British sports car maker Lotus Cars, although the latter does not appear to have used Nio's technology to build cars.

On August 31, 2021, Lotus announced the formation of a new company in China, Wuhan Lotus Technology, and announced Nio Capital as an investor.

Zhixing's founder, Zhao Lei, was a senior director at , responsible for user operations. He joined Guangzhou-based car startup Cyberspace in early 2021 as co-founder and CEO.

In early 2022, Zhao left Cyberspace to found Zhixing with the support of Nio's Li. Zhixing secured a seed round of investment from Nio Capital and entered into a deep partnership with Nio, according to LatePost.

Zhixing has assembled teams in China, the US and Europe at the same time, with the European team responsible for performance-related R&D, headed by former Nio VP of vehicle engineering Roger Malkusson.

Its US team focuses on adventure experience and product design, with the head not yet on board, LatePost said, adding that Zhixing is reaching out to Richard Kim, former co-founder of US startup Canoo and former vice president of design at Faraday Future and designer of the FF 91, for the position.

Zhixing will be developed under the license of Nio's technology platform and will build the model on the NT 3.0, which will support both 800 V ultra-fast charging and battery swap, according to LatePost.

Nio's NT 3.0 platform, which is still in development and is scheduled to launch in 2024, will likely use batteries developed by the company itself, the report said, adding that all models based on the platform will then support the 800 V architecture with ultra-fast charging and battery swap.

The (NYSE: XPEV) G9, which went on sale in September 2022, is the first vehicle from a Chinese automaker to be built on the 800 V platform, and its 4C version can charge at a peak power of 430 kW and go from 10 percent to 80 percent in as little as 15 minutes.

Li Auto (NASDAQ: LI) plans to launch an EV this year that will also be based on the 800 V platform, according to LatePost.

By using Nio's resources to build cars, Zhixing can eliminate the cost of developing the technology platform so it can focus its resources on off-road performance-related product experiences, including dedicated four-wheel-side motors, 4WD control, off-road chassis and suspension, the report said.

Zhixing's battery pack size will be compatible with Nio's battery swap stations and can use Nio's charging and battery swap system, according to the report.

The spending power of the rich will not decline along with the economy, and the profitability of luxury cars has doubled in the past five years, and the fastest growing sales are luxury SUVs, the report noted.

On January 5, (OTCMKTS: BYDDY) officially unveiled its premium Yangwang brand and debuted its first models, including the hardcore off-road SUV Yangwang U8 and the supercar Yangwang U9.

The Yangwang U8 is the brand's first production model, measuring over 5 meters in length and 2 meters in width. The model is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in less than four seconds and will be priced at the RMB 1 million level, BYD said.

Prior to the report on Zhixing's off-road SUV, local auto media Auto Home reported on December 24 that Nio is going to build its own "Mercedes Maybach" model, which is already in the design stage and will be a luxury sedan priced at the RMB 1 million level.

The luxury sedan will be operated under the Nio brand, not a sub-brand, and will compete with the Mercedes-Benz Maybach S-Class, Auto Home said, adding that if things go well, the model will be launched and sold globally as early as 2024.

The most expensive model currently being delivered by Nio is the ES8 SUV, which starts at RMB 598,000 for its most expensive version.

At the Nio Day event on December 24, 2022, the company launched the EC7 as well as the new ES8, with their deliveries set to begin in May and June 2023, respectively.

Nio is offering three versions of the EC7 with starting prices of RMB 488,000, RMB 546,000 and RMB 578,000 including the battery, respectively.

Nio offers three options for the new ES8, with starting prices of RMB 528,000, RMB 548,000 and RMB 638,000 respectively.

NIO reportedly working on ultra-luxury sedan to take on Mercedes-Maybach S-Class