Electric car brand NIO wants to make smartphones

Business & Technology

EV maker NIO wants to build smartphones, adding to a list of tech companies that are blurring the divide between smart devices for talking and traveling.

Illustration by SOPA Images/Sipa/Omar Marques via Reuters Connect.

Shanghai-based electric car brand NIO is hoping to build smartphones, according to leaks over the past few days on social media and the tech blog 36kr. The news comes as the barriers between smartphones and smart devices — like the electric vehicle — continue to erode.

The smartphone arm of NIO will be based in Shenzhen and led by the former president of the phone company Meitu, Yǐn Shuǐjūn 尹水军.

  • NIO responded to the rumors yesterday, claiming that no information can be disclosed at the time. However, online job postings in smartphone engineering positions confirmed the intention.
  • NIO will be entering a cutthroat market dominated by companies like Apple, Huawei, and Xiaomi.

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The context: This is not the first time NIO has entered a new field. The startup has diversified into a number of related — and sometimes unrelated — sectors. They include building batteries, real estate, furniture, apparel, and more. Meanwhile, phone companies have already made forays into the EV business.

  • Early last year, ambitious smartphone companies like Apple, Huawei, and Xiaomi announced their plans to develop electric vehicles. In April, Huawei revealed the Seres SF5, which can be hooked up to Huawei smartphones, allowing for remote control and data transfers. ​​Xiaomi has set 2024 as the date to launch its first vehicle model.
  • NIO is not the only carmaker with smartphone ambitions. The automaker Geely launched its own smartphone business back in September by establishing a Wuhan-based headquarters. In the U.S., Tesla has long been rumored to launch a phone.

The takeaway: China’s smartphone makers are increasingly turning from collaborators to competitors. Smartphones are an essential component of the future smart car, and China’s EV startups may be pressured to offer their own solutions. It might not be a big leap: Whether phones or cars, smart devices all share similar base technologies such as chips, software, AI, integrated devices, and new manufacturing capabilities.