Alps will use a pure vision solution similar to 's on its smart driving system to cut costs, according to local media.

(Image credit: CnEVPost)

's (NYSE: NIO) sub-brand codenamed Alps will use a pure vision solution similar to Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA) for its smart driving system to keep costs down, according to a new report.

Alps' smart driving solution will be based on a single Nvidia Orin X chip with LiDAR removed, local media outlet HiEV said in a report today, citing multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The Nio brand's eight models currently on sale are based on the NT 2.0 platform, which comes standard with a single roof-mounted LiDAR and an Adam supercomputer powered by four Orin chips.

Alps plans to launch its first model, an SUV to take on the Tesla Model Y, later this year, the HiEV report said.

The use of a single Orin chip and the removal of LiDAR will significantly differentiate Alps' smart driving from the Nio brand, the report noted.

Alps' first car will start at between RMB 200,000 ($28,000) and RMB 250,000, with the goal of having pilot-assisted driving capabilities in urban areas at the time of delivery, the report said.

Lower-cost smart driving solutions will give Alps a chance to disrupt the market, the report said.

The Nio brand is targeting the premium market, with the current starting price range for the vehicles being around RMB 300,000 to RMB 600,000.

Its NT 1.0 platform-based models use Mobileye's EyeQ4 chip with 2.5 Tops of computing power for its smart driving system. A single Nvidia Orin X chip has 254 Tops of computing power, giving the Nio Adam supercomputer 1,016 Tops.

Nio's NT 1.0 platform models did not use LiDAR. The ET7 sedan, the first model of the NT 2.0 platform, is Nio's first LiDAR-equipped model.

The NT 2.0 model uses Seyond's high-performance Falcon LiDAR with a detection range of up to 500 meters.

For comparison, Nio's local peers (NYSE: XPEV) and (NASDAQ: LI) both use two Orin X chips in their models' top-trim variants, and the performance of the LiDARs are not as powerful as the Falcon.

Alps models will be based on Nio's next-generation vehicle platform, NT 3.0, according to HiEV. The first model on the new platform is the ET9, the flagship executive sedan unveiled at Nio Day 2023 on December 23, the report noted.

The ET9 will be the first to carry Nio's in-house developed 5 nm process-based Shenji NX9031 autonomous driving chip, with one chip rivaling the capabilities of four Nvidia Drive Orin chips, Nio previously said. The ET9 still carries roof-mounted LiDAR.

According to HiEV, Nio's smart driving system on the NT 3.0 platform will take multiple routes:

The Nio brand will make a full switch from four Orin X chips to using two Shenji NX9031 chips.

The Alps brand uses a single Orin X chip, which can be upgraded to the Shenji NX9031 chip in the future.

The Firefly brand will use the Journey 5 chip from local chipmaker Horizon Robotics.

Horizon Robotics CEO says Nio's new brand will use its chips

Along with the single Orin X chip, Alps models will also carry weaker cameras, according to HiEV. The sub-brand's models may use a front-view camera with a resolution of 2 megapixels instead of the 8-megapixel one currently used by the Nio brand, the report noted.

The Nio brand will also be treated differently from the sub-brands when it comes to the energy replenishment system.

Nio-branded models will have access to all Nio battery swap stations, while Alps' models will only be able to use Nio's third-generation stations as well as the fourth-generation stations that will begin construction later this year, according to HiEV.

Firefly-branded models, on the other hand, will only be able to use fourth-generation battery swap stations, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Nio confirmed in August 2021 that it would enter the mass market through a sub-brand, and said in subsequent communications that it has two sub-brands, internally codenamed Alps and Firefly.

Alps is thought to target the family car market priced between RMB 200,000 and RMB 300,000, while Firefly will target the sub-RMB 200,000 market.

On December 5, Nio founder, chairman, and CEO William Li said in a call after the company announced its third-quarter earnings that Alps completed trial production of its VB (Validation Build) prototype, and that there was still enough time to optimize and improve it.

On January 12, LatePost reported that Alps' first model will be an SUV and the second a sedan, both priced under RMB 300,000 yuan.

The Alps team has recently completed a series of adjustments, with autonomous driving R&D and cockpit-related businesses largely integrated with the Nio brand, with some businesses still operating independently, according to the LatePost report.

Alps has operated independently since its inception, with a full R&D department. By early 2023, the sub-brand's team size exceeded 800, with the overlap with the Nio brand gradually becoming more significant.

Alps previously had its own smart cockpit team, but Nio's main brand cockpit team alone can finish almost all of the sub-brand's work, LatePost said last week, citing a person close to Nio.

Li said in an internal letter in November that the company would merge duplicate departments and positions, and after that, Alps entered a period of restructuring, the story noted.

Li's November 3 internal letter outlined plans for organizational optimization, including a reduction of about 10 percent of positions and an emphasis on improving execution efficiency, as previously reported by CnEVPost.

($1 = RMB 7.1962)

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