Chinese startups are battling with Tesla for electric-car supremacy — take a look at their cars

An electric car nears the end of the assembly line at Xpeng’s factory in Zhaoqing, China, n April 13, 2021. Fueled with money from Wall Street and local officials, Chinese automakers plan to build eight million electric cars a year there, more than Europe and North America combined. (Keith Bradsher/The New York Times)

  • Three electric-car startups have risen to the top of the pack in China.
  • Nio, Xpeng, and Li Auto are all challenging Tesla in what’s becoming its most crucial market.
  • Here’s a quick guide to the companies and the high-tech models they sell.


Tesla NIO

Shanghai-based Nio was founded in 2014 by William Li, a billionaire entrepreneur who got rich selling services to the auto industry. Nio currently sells three models and has a fourth on the way for early 2022.

It’s delivered some 140,000 cars to customers in China and is expanding to Europe.

Nio ES8

NIO ES8 Norway

The $67,000 ES8, Nio’s full-size SUV, claims a range of 360 miles, comes in six-seat and seven-seat configurations and, like all Nio models, uses battery-swapping technology.

That means you don’t need plug it in and charge like you would with most electric cars (although you can do that). Instead, owners can pull up to a station where their depleted battery is removed and a full one is installed.

Nio ES6

Nio ES6

The ES6 is smaller and sportier than the ES8. Nio claims a zero-to-62-mph time of 4.7 seconds and a range of 379 miles. It comes with bolstered sport seats, as opposed to the ES8’s big plush ones.

It starts at around $56,000.

Nio EC6

Nio EC6

The EC6 is Nio’s stab at the increasingly popular coupe-style SUV, which has a roof that slants downward in back. It has a similar profile to Tesla’s Model Y and is quicker than Nio’s other SUVs.

It starts at around $57,000, and pricing can stretch past $80,000 for the fanciest trim and biggest battery option. Nio’s premium vehicles all offer sleek interiors, big touchscreen displays, and Nio Pilot, the company’s driver-assistance tech.

Nio ET7


The ET7 goes on sale in early 2022 and will rival luxe electric sedans like the Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S. Nio says it can hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and drive at least 600 miles when outfitted with the company’s biggest battery. That’s farther than any electric car on sale today.

It’ll cost roughly $70,000 to start.


Xpeng Motors

Xpeng launched in 2015 and now sells three models. It has big plans for future models and advanced autonomous-driving technology.

Xpeng G3

Xpeng G3

Nio’s SUVs look cool but mostly conventional. The Xpeng G3 looks otherworldly.

Its pointy headlights and overall shape give off Chevrolet Bolt vibes, but the G3 is definitely its own thing. Xpeng says it can travel 323 miles on a full charge and replenish from 30%-80% battery in 30 minutes.

A base model will run you around $23,000 — way less than any Tesla.

Xpeng P7

Xpeng Motors P7

Priced at around $36,000 after subsidies in China, the P7 is clearly Xpeng’s shot at Tesla’s Model 3 sedan.

Xpeng sells four models with varying stats. The Super Long Range P7 can travel 438 miles on a full battery, the company claims. Xpeng is expanding to Europe and plans to launch another sedan and SUV.

Xpeng P5

Xpeng P5

Xpeng recently started shipping its latest model, the P5 sedan. After subsidies, it starts at less than $25,000, undercutting the price of the Model 3 by a third.

On more expensive trims you get built-in lidar sensors, which use lasers to create a 3D map of the surrounding environment. Many consider lidar to be the only way to get autonomous driving to work, but it’s practically nonexistent in consumer vehicles and Elon Musk is determined to never use it.

The cheapest P5 promises 286 miles of driving range.

The Li Auto One. Li Auto

Li Auto started up in 2015 and has one vehicle in production: the Li One. Still, it’s a worthy contender in China’s hot EV space. It’s sold nearly 100,000 vehicles since deliveries began in early 2020.

Li One

Li One

Li Auto’s sole vehicle is a full-size, six-seat SUV called the Li One. The Chinese market loves stately, elegant-looking vehicles, and the Li One fits the bill.

The company is taking a different approach than its rivals, though. The Li One is a plug-in hybrid SUV, meaning it has a gas engine in addition to a substantial battery pack. Plug-in hybrids offer lots of the environmental benefits of an all-electric car, but will never leave you stranded if you can’t find a charging station.

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