SHANGHAI -- China's Nio unveiled a high-end smartphone designed to be used with its electric vehicles, touting a plethora of related functions such as using the phone to instruct the car to park itself.
The launch of the Nio Phone - the first car-specific phone to be sold by a Chinese company, highlights the advanced state of EV technologies in the world's biggest auto market, where EVs now account for more than a third of vehicle sales.
A Nio driver can also use the phone to notify their car to drive itself to their location (allowed in China in restricted spaces and at low speeds) and to unlock the car even when the phone is switched off.
CEO William Li said the Nio Phone had more than 30 car-specific functions and had broken new ground with connection technologies.
"I believe many of our competitors will learn from our smartphone innovations and I welcome them to do so," he said.
Three models are available, priced between 6,499 and 7,499 yuan ($890-$1,030). The phone initially only be sold in China and deliveries will start from Sept. 28.
Li has pushed ahead with the smartphone project despite concern among some investors that the automaker, which has seen its losses widen amid a fierce price war in China, is taking on too much.
The automaker's primary interest in designing the phone is probably in collecting user data rather than seeking to make the phone a key contributor to revenue, according to IDC analyst Will Wong.
"Smartphones will be a good platform to collect more data which is crucial in the current tech world and could potentially lead to better user experience and customer stickiness," he said.
Nio's foray marks the latest intermingling between the smartphone and automotive worlds. Meizu, taken over by a venture belonging to Geely, in March unveiled smartphones that can connect to Geely's Lynk & CO cars but are also marketed more broadly to consumers.
Smartphone maker Xiaomi is also set to start making cars.
Nio, which ranks No. 9 among manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars in China, has been doubling down on investment in self-developed technologies for key components such as chips and batteries.
It has also built a fan base among its drivers in China by rolling out exclusive membership clubs and by offering products such as Nio-branded wine.
The company has a team of 11,000 engineers that work on key aspects of smart EV technologies from chips to batteries to autonomous driving and smart manufacturing, Li said at the event.
After sales slumped in the first half of the year, Nio has seen signs of recovery with August deliveries jumping 81 percent on the year thanks to the popularity of its revamped ES6 SUV.
It sold about 94,350 vehicles in the first eight months, an increase of 32 percent over the year-earlier period, outpacing the 20 percent growth rate for electric car sales in China.
Separately, Li said he hoped all governments could have an open attitude rather than be isolationist, after the European Commission launched an anti-subsidy probe into Chinese-made EVs last week.
Li made the comments at a media roundtable after the launch of the smartphone.
He said lessons to be learnt from China's new energy vehicle (NEV) development were to be open and welcome competition to benefit users and global sustainable development.
"As a public company in the private sector, we are still losing money and the selling price in Europe is not low," Nio's President Qin Lihong said at the same event.
"We hope that the market environment can be simpler, let the market be the market. As an entrepreneur, I hope that governments and the private sector can guide the NEV sector positively."