(From left to right: He Xiaopeng, CEO of Xpeng; William Li, CEO of Nio; Li Xiang, CEO of Li Auto. Image credit: @电动星球蟹老板)
The relationship between the men at the helm of Nio (NYSE: NIO), Xpeng (NYSE: XPEV) and Li Auto (NASDAQ: LI) is becoming more delicate than ever as competition intensifies.
Against this backdrop, it's interesting to see them leave a photo together when they show up at the same venue.
Ouyang Chen, founder of local automotive media outlet EV Planet, today shared a new group photo of William Li, founder, chairman and CEO of Nio; He Xiaopeng, chairman and CEO of Xpeng; and Li Xiang, founder, chairman and CEO of Li Auto on Weibo, the first time the trio have been pictured together in three years.
The photo was taken today in Changchun, Jilin, northeastern China, where they attended a celebration of the 70th anniversary of China's auto industry together, according to Ouyang.
On June 6, 2020, Mr. He shared a photo of him and the two Mr. Lis on Weibo, saying at the time that it was three people in distress thinking about how to make a change.
In May 2020, Nio delivered 3,436 vehicles, Xpeng 976 and Li Auto 2,148 vehicles.
(Image from He Xiaopeng's Weibo.)
The three have not been photographed together since then. The latest photo comes at a time when the competition between Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto is bigger than ever.
Three years ago, when China's new energy vehicle (NEV) penetration rate was less than 10 percent, getting more customers to accept NEVs was their bigger mission. Now that NEV sales contribute 35 percent of all passenger car sales in China, the competition for customers is becoming clearer.
Li Auto has been the star of the trio over the past year, with deliveries hitting record highs in multiple months, while Nio and Xpeng have both seen sales slump due to model changeovers.
In the first half of the year, Li Auto sold 139,117 vehicles, well ahead of Xpeng's 41,435 and Nio's 54,561.
Notably, Li Auto's three models currently on sale -- Li L7, Li L8 and Li L9 -- are all extended-range electric vehicles (EREVs), essentially plug-in hybrids, targeting a much larger market.
Nio and Xpeng's models are all battery electric vehicles (BEVs), with a total addressable market of only about 20 percent of the passenger car market.
In June, retail sales of NEVs in China amounted to 665,000 units, contributing 35.1 percent of all passenger car sales, according to the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA).
BEVs retail sales were 449,000 units in June, contributing 23.7 percent of all passenger car sales.
Li Auto has continued to share weekly sales figures for the past few months for itself and its major peers, hoping to drive further sales growth by showing potential customers that it's ahead of the pack.
However, the latest tables it shared was disputed by two Xpeng executives, who claimed that Li Auto's ranking was unreliable with respect to Xpeng's numbers.
Li Auto responded on July 13 that the data it shared was obtained in a legal, compliant manner from sources common to the auto industry.
A month earlier, Li Auto's weekly sharing of these numbers had been questioned by a Weibo user as a shot at its local peers.
Li Auto's Mr. Li responded to the Weibo user at the time by saying that the sales of these local counterparts were so low that they weren't even worth mentioning and that its core focus had always been on the markets where the German premium automakers was in.
Li used the Chinese saying "three watermelons and two dates (仨瓜俩枣)" to describe the sales of its local counterparts, implying that they were too far behind Li Auto.