SHANGHAI -- In Shanghai, aerospace executive Lu Hao didn't just buy a sleek electric SUV from Nio, China's answer to Tesla. He bought Nio's whole vision of a future where social media, e-commerce and the daily commute converge in one lifestyle app.
In the morning, the 31-year-old eats cereal bought from the automaker's Nio Life online store while chatting on its app with other Nio owners. He wears Nio gear for the drive to and from work, and in the evenings relaxes at home with a glass of Nio wine and more chat with Nio owners about how to get the best out of their cars.
"Buying Nio stuff has been a part of my daily life," said Lu, "the prices are good and it is a habit to wear Nio clothes to events." Over the past two years he has spent over 220,000 yuan ($34,000) on Nio Life products, on top of the 470,000 yuan he forked out to buy his ES8 SUV to replace a Ford Mondeo sedan.
Automakers around the world have long sought to tap into brand loyalties with goods like branded t-shirts or caps. But Shanghai-based Nio's ambitions are much grander: a startup now valued at $70 billion according to its New York stock listing, it operates its own digital currency with tradeable credits that clients can gain from buying a car, attending events or even simply posting their stories on the Nio app.
"Communities tend to lean towards loyalty ... that's exactly what Nio is tapping into," said Tu Le, analyst at China-based research firm Sino Auto Insights, referring to an app that Nio executives say now has around 150,000 daily users.
"If Nio can continue to build the community, launch great products, and not have any major quality spills they are well-positioned to be a major player in China."
However, Le cautioned, "Nio still hasn't figured out to convert more of the Nio community that haven't purchased a Nio vehicle into Nio (car) buyers, which is concerning."