“Creating an entirely new brand was tough, but probably the most rewarding project of my career.
“Designing our initial car – which will serve as our halo product – we knew it had to be representative of who we are as a brand from all aspects, from performance, through design, to how we approach and appeal to our customers in the future. It was done in a very start-up environment which was really rewarding. I was given a lot of freedom from the CEO to ‘just go do it’, which you don’t usually get in a traditional automotive carmaker environment.
“The key was making sure we had talent on board that was experienced enough to make quick, gut-feel decisions. I started in June 2015 and literally, it was me and three other people – without an office. As the business revved up, we hired people and found the facility in Munich. My job involved everything from selecting design sketches for the EP9 to deciding what colour carpet we needed in the building. It was that kind of a project.
“Anything creative went through, or came by, my desk. I’d oversee all creative brand content for Nio, the logo development, and the look and feel of our Shanghai offices. Our chairman wants to keep design at the forefront of everything we do, so he makes sure I have an involvement in all the design or creative related decisions of the company.
“I knew that Munich would be a great location to tap into the talent of Europe and Germany in particular. You’ve got a lot of carmakers in the area so we had access to great suppliers and contractors for anything we needed. We’ll be close to a 130-strong team by mid-2017: exterior, interior, colour, materials, brand, cast modelling and design engineering. It’s a fully functioning design studio. To date, I think we have 28 nationalities. The majority are from European carmakers but we have some straight out of school, and Chinese designers as well.
“The industry is ripe for change. Consumer mindsets and driving habits are changing. Cities are getting more congested. There are a lot of issues related to the whole automotive buying and ownership process. We’ve got a lot of outside influences now, too. Consumer electronics have taken the lead in people’s lives. There used to be an age when no-one could wait to get their first car. Now kids can’t wait to get their first iPhone, computer or whatever. The need for mobility is still there and will always be, though. People have just decided they want something different.
“What’s the unique selling point of Nio? What we’ve presented in the EP9 (above) is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to this story. What I can talk about is creating a very different consumer experience. There are a lot of new competitors, and we welcome them because we are all trying to change the industry. I think the key differentiator really will be how we talk to our consumers. How our brand speaks to them, betters their lives, empowers them and makes a lot of the pain points associated with cars today go away. It’s making sure that design is touching all those points, and that’s what we are trying to achieve. I think the tremors have started. I don’t think we are going to see too much of an impact in terms of design for another couple of years. The real proof of the pudding will be when we all release our first real production cars to the masses.
“Everybody is pushing ahead with the human-machine interface (HMI). I think that’s a given now. We are seeing a lot of concepts really focusing on the HMI experience, and the fact that a lot of carmakers are showing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) suggests that they now understand it’s going to be a key part of what differentiates their products.
“We are starting to see more design quality on production cars, too. I’m amazed at how well so many manufacturers are executing – even with things that may not be the big noticeable feature to a consumer, but to the designers make a huge difference.
“For example, you’re seeing an increase in wheel size, even on some smaller, cost-effective vehicles, which you wouldn’t have seen five years ago. But look at higher-end luxury interiors and furniture, and there’s a warmth that I think is sometimes lacking in automotive interiors. They have an attention to detail without overdoing it. Another line of chrome on a car doesn’t make it that much more luxurious anymore. There’s a lot more opportunity in interiors.
“We’re not a brand with a long history where you could be just rehashing the same old design cues. We are really looking to our designers with those great ideas they executed in college, and still have in their note pads, to help formulate our brand moving forward. At Nio we’re still a young enough brand to do that.
“We have offices worldwide, so it is a long-term global vision. We have a big team in San Jose, USA, and one in London too – for advanced engineering, performance products and Formula E activities. That’s how we are approaching all our products. We’re all about the experience. An experience can be about performance, but it can also be about luxury, or ease of use.”
Car Design Review 4 contains the best concept and production cars of the year, as chosen by the world's leading designers, trends, student work, and much more. And it's available now.