Until very recently, we had only heard about one brand for more affordable vehicles. It would share NIO’s swappable battery pack technology while selling less luxurious EVs. Apparently, that will be the role of ALPS. This is the codename for the new brand, but we would not be surprised if it turned out to be its final designation.
Firefly is new to us. The sub-brand is supposed to cover vehicles from the low to mid-range market, with EVs costing up to RMB200,000 ($29,479 at the current exchange rate). That leaves ALPS with vehicles ranging from RMB200,000 to RMB300,000 ($44,219). NIO’s most affordable vehicle nowadays is the ET5, which starts at RMB328,000 ($48,346). Qin confirmed the ET5 would have a station wagon and that NIO would also have a smaller car than the ET5. It should be presented in Europe in the third quarter of 2024.
Next year will also introduce NIO’s sub-brands. ALPS and Firefly should premiere in 2024, with Firefly being introduced first to European customers. Both companies should start their careers with compact hatchbacks, which will share NIO’s battery-swapping technology. However, that demands a better explanation.
For Firefly and ALPS vehicles to use the same battery packs as NIO EVs, they need to have the same wheelbase as the smallest NIO. In other words, at least 2.89 meters (113.8 inches), which is the wheelbase of the ET5. A compact hatchback would not be that large: it would present a wheelbase of around 2.70 m (106.3 in). That suggests they will need smaller battery packs. Either NIO will need dedicated battery swap stations for these smaller EVs, or the current Power Swap stations will have to deal with two different battery pack sizes.
In that sense, CATL’s Choco-SEBs are a much better solution. Customers can choose how many modules they will swap, and smaller cars naturally have fewer modules than larger ones. The swap stations deal with a single format, regardless of the vehicle they are servicing. Another advantage is that EVs can have only the battery packs they will use, avoiding the extra weight for a range they do not need.
Firefly may present another issue: that’s the name Stellantis uses on its FCA Global Small Engines (GSE). NIO is no stranger to trademark disputes, and it recently lost one lawsuit for Audi regarding the names of its vehicles. The good news is that Firefly is only a codename, so expect NIO to find a safer denomination for its entry-level brand.
Besides the new sub-brands, Qin also confirmed that NIO would have its own mobile phones. Based on Android, their main goal is to communicate better with NIO’s EVs. The company should start selling them by the third quarter of 2023. The NIO president also talked about how the company is investing profits in research and development. According to Qin, that’s similar to the money parents pay for their children’s education: it will prove worthwhile in the long run.
If NIO’s strategy with its sub-brands works, that will be a lesson on how to preserve the reputation it achieved with its leading brand while also venturing into high-scale mass production. Tesla may want to take some notes.