(Yicai Global) March 16 -- Shanghai NextEV Automobile Co. recently unveiled NIO Eve, a driverless concept car. This new model is expected to be put into mass production in 2020 while its price is still unknown. NEXTEV showcased this model on the SXSW Interactive, an annual conference and festival event, in Austin, Texas, the US, on March 14.
The size of the car is similar to that of a common household car. However, it is different from other driverless cars displayed at the Electronics Show in Las Vegas when its doors slide open. This 6-seat car has an indoor space like a small living room, without obvious area division. It is equipped with an artificial intelligence assistant - NOMI.
Kris Tomasson, Nextev's design director at its Silicon Valley office, told Yicai Global that the space of the car is divided according to seats. The car also features a gas pedal, steering wheel and other conventional driving facilities in case someone would like to drive it.
When it comes to driverless technology, Li Bin, founder and board chairman of Nextev, said in an interview that the company had obtained a test license for driverless cars from the government of the US state of California at the end of last year, and emphasized that NIO Eve had reached the autonomous driving level L4 specified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that is, "Fully autonomous vehicles that monitor roadway conditions and perform safety-critical tasks throughout the duration of the trip with or without a driver present."
Yicai Global learned that Nextev has reached cooperation agreements with the driver assistance system developer, Mobileye, chip maker Nvidia and semiconductor company NXP. A staff member revealed that Nextev has purchased chips from Nvidia, which will be not only used in this driverless car, but also in new models to be displayed at the Shanghai Auto Show.
The driverless car was completed by several teams from Nextev, including its R&D team in China, technical team in the Silicon Valley, design team in Munich, and creative team in the UK, Li Bin said. All digital features such as NOMI assistant were designed by NEXTEV's team in the Silicon Valley.
"Up until now, Nextev's Silicon Valley team mainly played an R&D role. As mass production and entry into the U.S. market are scheduled for 2020, functions of the American team will expand in the future," Li said. At present, the Silicon Valley team has about 300 employees, and 80 percent of them are engineers.
Li Bin made no comment regarding Baidu's possible interest in investing in Nextev.
As to the positioning and mass production plan, the technology and design of the concept car NIO Eve will be applied to the mass-production cars, Nextev officials told Yicai Global. NIO Eve is targeted at American middle-class families with an annual income of over USD150,000.
Its final price will depend on technology maturity at the time of mass production. Whether the mass production site will be in China or the US depends on a thorough consideration of economic returns and production efficiency, they added.