Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker Nio has relaunched its homegrown Level 4 self-driving technology research and development project, which enables fully autonomous driving, despite an ongoing partnership with Intel’s self-driving subsidiary Mobileye, media outlet LatePost reported on Wednesday.
Nio’s assistant vice president Ren Shaoqing, a computer vision expert and the co-founder of Chinese autonomous driving startup Momenta, is responsible for the project, reporting directly to Nio founder and CEO William Li Bin. Zhang Jianyong, a Nio veteran who worked at state-owned SAIC Motor’s self-driving unit before joining Nio as a director, was promoted to assistant VP recently, reporting to Li as well, according to LatePost. Jamie Carlson, who was Nio’s tech lead since 2016 and a former Tesla and Apple engineer, left the company in June.
Nio started looking at self-driving technologies as early as 2015 and built R&D teams both in the US and China, since founder Li considered it “critical for smart EV.” In 2019, cash-strapped Nio slowed its push into the money-burning autonomous vehicle (AV) research, laying off hundreds of employees in the division. In November last year, the firm inked a collaboration with Mobileye, in which Nio would engineer and manufacture a self-driving system designed by Mobileye, building on its L4 kit. Nio recently listed around 30 job openings in the US, the company’s Glassdoor page shows.
This year’s strong financial performance fueled the relaunch. The Nio stock crossed USD 55 for the first time earlier this week, valuing the company at around USD 73 billion. In the third quarter of 2020, Nio delivered 12,206 vehicles, almost three times the 4,799 from the same period last year. Vehicle sales generated RMB 4.3 billion (USD 628.4 million) in the quarter, representing a year-on-year (YoY) increase of 146.1%. Net losses have been narrowing, from last year’s RMB 2.5 billion to RMB 1 billion (USD 154.2 million) now. In addition, it sits on a cash pile of RMB 22.2 billion (USD 3.3 billion) as of September 30.
In October, 36Kr reported that Nio is planning to develop its own AV chips and that it has built a hardware unit, dubbed “Smart HW (hardware),” ramping up and strengthening its advantages in homegrown technology.