Beijing 2018: Nio’s hexagonal DNA

30 April 2018 | by Chris Maillard

EV brand Nio’s stand at the Beijing Auto Show had a lot of cars on it. But not a lot of models. Currently they have three – the EP9 supercar, an autonomous future concept named Eve, and a medium-large SUV, the ES8.

However, despite the fact that they had a slight paucity of brand new product, and rather a lot of the same car (the ES8), their stand was consistently heaving with interested media people and industry insiders. They’ve definitely managed to whip up some interest in their brand. But now they have to convert that into sales, and rumour has it that a new model is on the way which is intended to do that job.

So how do you, first, create a brand DNA from nothing and, second, translate it from a single car to an entire range? Luckily, Nio’s Exterior Design Director Juho Suh was present to answer that question. He’s the man who is going to make Nio’s next car recognisably a Nio, while making it accessible to mainstream buyers. No pressure, then.

"We didn’t have anything at the beginning,” he explained. “A blank piece of paper. But we needed the DNA, the idea that if anybody sees a car, they realise it’s a Nio. We had to go through a lot of different stages to get the design elements, the DNA of the car.

“As designers, everything starts with the hands – we draw our ideas. But while we could draw this and that, we had to define the reasons behind everything, so we came up with ‘hexagonal‘. It’s a very simple, natural shape – it comes from nature, like the honeycomb, which also goes with our clean electric car. It’s the most efficient shape. Of course we didn't want to use hexagons absolutely everywhere, but we tried to use it as a baseline, as a starting point, from which we started to develop the designs. But it’s in the DNA of everything.”

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After their supercar and their concept AV, Nio’s first real-world vehicle was (of course) an SUV. So, how did the design team apply their DNA to make it a Nio?

 “Sport Utility Vehicle is a very simple definition,“said Juho. “You should be able to go anywhere, you have a lot of space, and it should feel active. Our version feels powerful, as a character. And that’s all about proportion. It has to be really well-balanced, and the graphic also works well. Sometimes if you have one colour it looks heavy. But ours looks sleeker and more dynamic; you see the top and bottom as separate parts – the top, the greenhouse in black, then the body in a separate colour and underneath that a dark element to give it a sleek appearance.

“The top is all about lifestyle, the bottom is about technology – the dark area emphasises the ‘platform’ nature of it. It's not just about proportions; we want to show you graphically the technological aspect. It's not just from the sides, our grille element at the front is much more open than some electric vehicles to tell the story about the battery platform and visually to give a more lightweight feeling.

“And the shape, of course, comes from our hexagonal DNA. Every time you look at the car you see a lot of hexagonal shapes.”

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But how do you transfer that to a different kind of vehicle?

“Everyone has a family; your brothers and sisters share the same DNA, even though you may not look alike. It's not about looking alike, it's about character. And for us that comes from every element of the car – the interior, the UX/UI experience as well as the styling. It has to be really holistic.

“Of course it's also about a form language – BMW, for instance, has the double-kidney grille, the Hofmeister kink, zigzags in the body section, four eyes – but we've already got the hexagonal idea, and actually it’s really easy to bring that to any kind of shape. Before it was difficult, because we didn't have a distinct graphic idea, but now we have it, making it work in other ways is really easy.

“We will carry on developing the design for future models too, which is a little more difficult. But we have formal, written, brand guidelines now so the next stage will be much easier.”

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