Two dead after Nio car falls from third floor of headquarters building in Shanghai during test drive

  • Crash is likely to spark a new wave of concern about the safety of intelligent EVs
  • Nio says the testing staff included one of its employees and a technician from one of its partners

Two testing staff members died during a test drive after a car made by Chinese electric vehicle (EV) start-up Nio fell from the third floor of an office building housing the carmaker’s headquarters in Shanghai on Wednesday.

They lost control of the car in a parking area in Shanghai Automotive Innovation Port in Anting, Jiading district, before the car smashed windows and fell to the ground, according to state-owned Shanghai Television.

Nio confirmed the accident on Thursday evening and said the testing staff included one of its employees and a technician from one of its partners, without elaborating further. No flaws involving the test vehicle had been found in initial investigations, it added.

The crash is likely to spark a new wave of concern about the safety of intelligent EVs that feature autonomous driving technology.

“Any fatal accident involving a smart EV can stoke fears about the safety of the vehicles,” said Gao Shen, an independent analyst in Shanghai. “Many consumers keen on owning an electric car may postpone their purchase decisions until carmakers and the police can prove that the deaths were not caused by immature technology.”

A personal familiar with the situation at Nio, who declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said the police were investigating the case. One of the two staff died soon after they were taken to a hospital nearby, and the other died on Thursday morning after surgery, Shanghai Television said.

According to pictures circulating on social media, the test vehicle appeared to be an ET5 sedan, which will be delivered to buyers in September this year. The mid-size car features a “digital cockpit” that is squarely aimed at Tesla’s popular Model 3. Priced from 328,000 yuan (US$48,910), the car comes with Pano-Cinema, a panoramic and -immersive digital cockpit boasting augmented reality and virtual reality technologies.

The ET5 is Nio’s fifth pro-duction model since its -establishment in 2014. It is fitted with a 75 kilowatt-hour battery that allows a range of as much as 550 kilometres on a single charge.

Chinese smart EV makers surged on Thursday following news that Beijing planned to extend tax exemptions for new-energy vehicles. Xpeng was the biggest gainer, jumping 9.8 per cent to HK$127 (US$16.18). Li Auto gained 9.4 per cent to HK$154.20, while Nio lagged behind, rising 5 per cent to HK$184.20.

Nio said earlier this month that deliveries between April and June would be somewhere between 23,000 and 25,000 units. This represented a quarter-on-quarter decline of 3 to 11 per cent due to a strained supply chain amid lockdowns in Shanghai and Jilin, a major carmaking base, from March to May.

Wednesday’s accident is not the first involving a smart EV developed by Nio. On August 12 last year, a 31-year-old driver was killed in an accident while driving a Nio ES8 sport utility vehicle on a highway in eastern Shandong province.

The accident occurred while the autopilot function, a preliminary technology to autonomous driving, was turned on, Nio said.

Shandong police said they were investigating the case and that Nio was assisting in the process. The cause of the accident has not yet been published.

Author: Zhang Shidong, SCMP

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