The fatal crash involving a Nio ES8 SUV ignited heated discussion in China after 500 drivers who own Nio vehicles circulated an open letter in support of the electric vehicle maker. But the death of Lin Wenqin, the driver of the vehicle in question, has led to a police investigation after evidence surfaced to suggest a Nio technician may have altered vehicle data that would point to what happened before the crash.
The collision took place on August 12 when Lin was using his vehicle’s “navigate on pilot” (NOP) feature, Nio said in a post on its Weibo account. The exact cause of the crash is currently being investigated.
On Sunday, Lin’s family shared images of documents issued by police in the city of Putian, where the accident took place. The documents indicated that Lin’s family members shared a video and audio recording in which Nio employees admitted to accessing data stored by Lin’s vehicle.
Several photos circulated online shortly after the car accident occurred, showing a Nio technician connecting his laptop to Lin’s crashed car.
In a statement released on Nio’s Weibo account on August 16, Nio said it “did not delete or modify any data” stored in Lin’s car after the crash. The company claimed that its technician was extracting data in the presence of the family’s representatives and the police. With the vehicle powered down, the operation would not have caused any data loss, the company said.
A lawyer representing the Lin family told local media that a Nio technician accessed the vehicle’s data without police approval before being summoned by the police to produce a statement. However, the company said, “No Nio staff had been called in by the police.”
The incident has been a primer in the broader discussion about the safety of assisted driving systems that are increasingly common features in new vehicles.
The joint statement produced with the backing of 500 people who own Nio vehicles reads, “We are fully aware that Nio’s NOP [navigation on pilot] is an assistant driving system, instead of an autonomous driving system or self-driving system. Nio’s promotion of NP [Nio Pilot, Nio’s premium assisted driving system package]/NOP has not been confusing or misleading.”
This led to a backlash, as thousands of Nio vehicle owners spoke out against the open letter. Yu Jia, a Nio ES6 owner in Shanghai, told KrASIA that the company’s sales representatives did not provide sufficient guidance or clear warnings about the NOP function when he bought the car.
“The NOP costs an extra RMB 24,000 (USD 3,700), so the sales representative talks up the system, telling you that the company will continually update the technology, and finally, it will reach an ‘autonomous’ level. But we do not know when that day will come,” Yu said.
Nio provides detailed instructions of its NOP system in every vehicle’s instruction manual. The company did not respond to KrASIA’s request for comment.