Infighting occurs in owners after crash death involving Nio's autopilot system

Asian Tech Press -- Infighting is playing out among car owners in the past two days over the death of a Nio ES8 owner and entrepreneur in an accident involving Nio's autopilot system.

It is worth noting that Chinese EV manufacturer Nio Inc. (NYSE: NIO) has shipped Nio ES8s to Norway in July, and is expected to be available for pre-order and delivery in Norway in September.

In China, the death of the ES8 owner has sparked an uproar, which has led to infighting among Nio owners.

Some owners issued a joint statement online on Wednesday about their perception of the Nio Pilot (NP)/Navigate-on-Pilot (NOP) system, the advanced driver assistance system developed by Nio. The statement said that Nio owners are aware that the NP/NOP system is a driver-assistance system, not an automated driving system or driverless system.

At the same time, the statement declared that Nio's presentation and advertising of the NP/NOP system did not confuse or mislead car owners, and urged the media to "understand and check the basic facts and concepts" when reporting.

In the obituary published by the company of Lin Wenqin, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and owner of the ES8, it was clearly mentioned that "the traffic accident occurred while driving a Nio ES8 car with the autopilot function (NOP pilot status) enabled", which put Nio's autopilot system in the limelight.

1. Infighting among Thousands of Car Owners

In response to the accident, Nio stated that the NOP system is not a self-driving system, and the results of the crash investigation will be announced later. However, Lin's family insisted that the accident was caused by enabling the autopilot function (NOP system).

On August 18, the local public security authority in Fujian issued a police report saying that an investigation had been carried out into the accident and that its traffic department would decide on responsibility based on the accident investigation.

For the accident, a distinction needs to be made between the controversial concepts of driver-assistance technology and automated driving technology, which is pending before the results of the investigation are released by the police.

For now, the police have not given any conclusion. The joint statement issued by more than 500 Nio owners was seen by some as a "disclaimer" for Nio.

At the same time, the statement was controversial on the company's official app NIO APP, with many owners expressing their objection to the joint statement. As of the evening of August 19, more than 7,500 owners had participated in the discussion on the topic of opposing the joint statement.

In NIO App, the vast majority of Nio owners clearly expressed that they were against "being represented".

Other owners said that when they bought the car, they did not receive professional introduction and publicity about the driver assistance system, and the staff, who was in charge of guiding the use of the car at the time of delivery, did not know vehicle functions as much as they did.

While the incident was fermenting, the official response from Nio said that the joint statement was issued by the Nio owners themselves and was only to popularize common sense, and was not related to the company. At the same time, it was not clear how many Nio owners were involved in the statement.

Some media reports pointed out that the statement was initiated by Lin Wei, an owner of the ES8 Founders Edition. Lin said that the statement was issued without prior communication with Nio.

With about 100,000 Nio vehicles currently in ownership, neither the supporters nor the opponents of the statement can represent all owners. However, behind this controversial statement, Nio has been deeply kidnapped by its car owners.

In fact, this is not the first time that Nio has experienced infighting among car owners.

In July this year, some Nio owners complained about the defective design of the seats, which caused various degrees of damage to the back and spine, and drew rebuttals and attacks from other Nio owners. The car owners who complained were accused of smearing Nio, while those who defended Nio were mocked as "Nio loyalists", whose Chinese pronunciation is the same as Wei Zhongxian, a notorious eunuch of the late Ming Dynasty who allegedly formed a clique for selfish ends and excluded dissidents.

The Nio owners are defending Nio like a fan defending his idol in the circle of fans, so there are many comments that the Nio owners are in fandom.

2. Nio's New Problem

Nio has always said that it is a company for users, and its business logic is that if Nio is good to its owners, the owners will be good to Nio. The focus on the user and the best service is considered to be the company's moat, and Nio is also known as the "Haidilao of the car industry". Haidilao, a chain of hot pot restaurants, is known for providing services beyond customers' expectations.

In the past, there was no direct connection between traditional car manufacturers and consumers. From the factory to the final delivery, the car has to go through many steps, and 4S stores are an important part. With the adoption of a direct-to-consumer model for new energy vehicles, the distance between automakers and consumers has been significantly shortened.

As early as 2015, Nio identified the company's core value as a service system. Unlike traditional car companies that think of cars as a means of transportation, Nio sees cars as user clubs, meaning that a user buying a car can be seen as joining a club.

In terms of service, Nio has created a new model, mindset, and user experience. For example, Nio consultants prepare birthday parties for users and their children, organize free trips to Hainan to watch Formula 1 race for active owners, and even help owners organize marriage proposals, etc.

The core purpose of NIO Day, an annual event for Nio and its users, is to "improve user viscosity and increase brand awareness".

Nio has the highest level of owner loyalty of any emerging car maker. According to Nio, the main function of the user community, NIO APP, is to bring together Nio owners or people interested in Nio, creating a ripple effect.

It is the user maintenance that has earned car owners' goodwill. In 2019, some owners spontaneously advertised for Nio, and over 60% of the orders came from the recommendations of old owners during the COVID-19 period.

To a certain extent, it is the user confidence cultivated by Nio's direct-to-consumer model that has saved the company in tough times, allowing Nio's car sales to rise gradually. But on the other hand, Nio owners are also kidnapping the company.

For Nio, problems don't stop there. As the number of Nio owners grows, and their identities become more complex and their values more diverse, conflicts are inevitable.

On the other hand, due to the increasing number of car owners, the "moat" constituted by customer service is beginning to be weakened to some extent, as Nio's user service team cannot expand indefinitely, and the high investment required to serve its customers and build a premium image.

This year, the fatal crash of a Nio ES8 and seat complaints have reflected the growing division of the Nio owner group and the growing discontent.

The ES8 accident, in particular, has brought to the forefront the split in values among Nio owners. One owner said, "In the past, Nio owners gave me the impression that they were a group of people with highly convergent values. But now I realize that there are so many people who are fanatical as religious believers inside."

In the past, many car companies have expressed their appreciation for Nio's experience in user operations and experience. But the statement supported by over 500 owners has put Nio in an awkward position and "tarnished" the brand image.

The Nio brand is facing a new problem beyond the accident, how to adjust the closeness with its car owners.

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