China's cutthroat competition hasn't been lost with the slowdown. EV companies fighting to win


My six-hour ride on a high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai last week, which lasted an afternoon, felt like WeWork in motion. Many people were using laptops to work and making business calls in a second-class car with 90 passengers. There was a taxi line of 15 minutes when I arrived at 8 pm in Shanghai. When I arrived at the hotel in the suburbs of the city an hour later, people were still checking in. Food delivery bags were piled up on the counter near the receptionist, waiting to be taken upstairs by the robot. I was in town to attend an event for the Chinese electric car company Nio, which was competing with Huawei’s Connect conference in terms of space and attention during a week filled with tech news. Electric car makers are buzzing. In the world exclusively of electric cars, Baidu-backed startup Jidu unveiled its car on a Tuesday afternoon. Xpeng has also revealed its new G9 SUV. BYD announced on Wednesday that its luxury SUV Yangwang U8 will start selling at one million yuan or more ($150,000), and Arcfox released a mass market car targeted to young parents on the same date. Leapmotor launched two mass market cars the same day. Nio, who had just finished its fifth car in four months, the week before, launched a new smartphone on Thursday. The company showed off its work in artificial intelligence, autonomous driving software and factory automation. William Li, Nio’s CEO, said in Mandarin on stage, and translated by CNBC, that customization is very important for premium customers. He said the company has 3.6 million color and feature combinations for its cars. Li said that Nio can deliver a customer order in 21 days by using technology to increase manufacturing efficiency. This, he claimed, is a way for the company to build its mass market brand. Shein, a fast-fashion company, has integrated supply chains with big data analytics and used them to anticipate what consumers are looking for. China’s current problem is demand, not economic concerns. Nio’s second-quarter car sales fell, but the company has increased its spending on R&D in the past two years. Huawei, a struggling company which has emphasized its R & D commitment, announced at its Shanghai event that it had a slew artificial intelligence models to be used in industry applications. According to a press release, CFO Meng Wanzhou spoke about AI services being the future of the company. Aito is also pushing forward with its EV brand, and announced a new car this month. Huawei created a buzz a few weeks back when it revealed the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, its flagship smartphone. If true, it would be shocking to learn that the device has a chip capable of 5G and has broken the 7-nanometer barrier. It’s not clear how many Mate 60 Pro smartphones Huawei can produce and at what price. The company’s revenue has plummeted so much that it has fallen from the first place among China’s non-state owned companies. now holds that position for two consecutive years. JD’s profitability was built by investing heavily in a logistic network, which allowed it to offer same-day and next-day deliveries. The company was still building its corporate campus outside of Beijing when I visited last week — a rare display of capital expenditure in this year’s gloomy mood. The ability of the average Chinese person to persevere and figure out a solution is incredible. I mean people scramble. They figure it out. People are very industrious. “They don’t just Netflix and chill like they do in America,” said Peter Alexander. He is the founder of Z-Ben Advisors in Shanghai and has lived in China since 1996. “I think this is a cultural difference that’s completely overlooked by those who are analyzing,” Alexander added. Alexander believes the economy will slightly rebound toward the end the year. In fact, China’s retail sale grew by 4.6% in August when compared with the previous year. This result was higher than July’s rate of 2.5%. The real estate industry continues to drag down the economy. The slowdown has not affected the competitive spirit of China, especially in tech. Huawei released a Mate 60 Pro video at an Oppo launch to steal the spotlight. This news was also released just a few days before Apple’s iPhone 15 launch. Huawei is launching a product in the United States on Monday. The giant American corporations are trying to maintain their market share. Instead of tea, the stewardess brought Starbucks Americanos and Lattes to the passengers on the high-speed trains. These drinks were also available via a mobile ordering service. Apple spent a lot of money on urban billboards in China to promote its new iPhone. On Friday, hundreds of people flocked to an Apple flagship store in Beijing to purchase the new iPhone 15. Stock analysts, however, were not impressed with Nio’s announcements about its phone and technology. Nomura China Autos analyst Frank Fan, along with a team of analysts, said in a Thursday report that they had a negative impression about the mobile business. Analysts said: “We believe that investing in mobile business will cause concern over the company’s development strategy and profitability, given the low monthly deliveries, and the fact that there is no plan to launch a new model for the next year.” The analysts have a neutral ranking with a $7.50 share price target. Bank of America retained a Buy rating on Thursday with an estimated $15 per share. They noted Nio’s management expectations that higher R & D expenditure will boost its competitiveness and reduce costs over the long-term. Nio, despite its financial problems, has performed miracles in the past. It received a $1 billion loan during the pandemic of early 2020, and its stock rose by over 1,100%. Li said in an interview on Wednesday that “experiences are what drives Nio, whether it’s our car, phone, or services, such as our battery-swapping service and after-sales services.” “Our company has a diverse and dynamic culture. The user does not just purchase a car but also a lot of emotional experiences. The company claims that its community-building app and Nio House clubshouses are the key to a market’s stickiness. Angela Cai, a Nio ET5 owner, said that she hadn’t considered Nio before this spring when two friends informed her of the services and community engagement. Cai says she received her car within a week after purchasing it in May. She hasn’t yet had the chance to look at the Nio Phone, but she is a regular visitor of the Nio House in her area, inviting family and friends. Cai stated that the Nio House is now a part of her daily life. Michael Bloom, a CNBC reporter, contributed to this story.