Electric Vehicles: A NIO breakthrough or marketing move?

Last weekend, NIO presented the new model ET7, a luxury sedan, equipped with a 150kWh battery with hybrid in-situ semi-solid electrolyte. The introduction of the semi-solid-electrolyte battery technology is reported by NIO as a significant step-forward in technology development providing a first mover advantage, though many questions remain around the effectiveness of the technology and its applications in commercial scale production. 

As has been felt in many markets, 2020 was a difficult year for the automotive industry in general, however, cumulative new energy vehicle (NEV) sales January to November did show Y-o-Y growth (0.92M units in 2019 vs. 0.98M units in 2020). For the January to November 2020 period, NIO was considered to be the eighth highest selling NEV brand in China, with almost 38,000 units sold. Major Chinese players included BYD, which managed to sell approximately 152,000 NEV units.  BYD’s best selling model, the Qin Pro, is a battery electric vehicle (BEV) offered in the price range of US$26-46,000. Additionally, Wuling Hongguang’s MINI managed to be the highest selling NEV model in China from August of 2020.

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NIO’s decision to present a model that will cost US$84,000 is risky in terms of its ability to gain additional market share, though the introduction of novel technology is likely to warrant additional cost as an ‘early stage’ technology. NIO states that the energy density of this semi-solid-state battery would reach 360Wh/kg, a more than 60% increase in comparison with the commercialised Li-ion battery in 2020.

In-situ solidification technology is used in lithium-ion batteries to maintain good contact between the electrolyte and the electrodes. NIO is also expected to use other advanced battery technologies to achieve increased energy density. High nickel NCM (Ni90%) cathode is quite likely to be used, with a fabricated nano coating. The coating would help build a good cathode-electrolyte interface and suppress side reactions between the cathode and liquid electrolyte. Pre-lithiation of carbon/silicon composite anodes is also an attractive method for achieving high energy density.  Whilst the US$84,000 does place the model at a premium to other BEV models released by competitors, the additional performance provided by the range of technological advancements is likely to attract interest from customers and competitors alike.   

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This article was written by Kevin Shang, Egor Prokhodtsev and David Merriman. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further:

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