NIO's fresh-faced ET7 sedan pairs sophistication with sustainability thanks to the design team's focus on the 'jewels' of the interior
NIO has made a move to take on the sedan segment. The company already has an established list of SUVs in its portfolio alongside the EP9 supercar, but the new ET7 is a different proposition.
Being the first sedan in the company’s line-up, the design team was faced with some new challenges. “We knew that our experience was going to be very different to when we did the SUVs,” Kris Tomasson, NIO’s vice president of design, tells Interior Motives. “Immediately there is a different feel because of the change in shape and height. We also know that interior roominess is really something we want to convey, both with actual dimensions and through the design layout and feel. And that, for me, is where we were quite successful with the ET7.”
The car measures 5,098mm in length and 1,987mm in width, with a wheelbase of 3,060mm. It is both longer and wider than the EC6 and ES6 SUV-come-coupes as well as the ES8 seven-seater SUV. So, then, there was plenty of room to play with when Tomasson and his team started.
Instead of starting with the larger components and deciding on the general layout, many of the finer details were ironed out. “We try to work on the little gems and bits of detail first. The thinking is, if these jewels of the interior are the parts that people interact with most, then let’s make sure those are the very best they can be without compromise, and we go from there.
It’s a philosophy we’re using at NIO and was particularly prominent for the ET7,” says Tomasson. One of the first decisions was to incorporate a material called Karuun – a renewable rattan that has been sourced from tropical rain forests. It first featured in NIO’s EVE concept car, but hasn’t been used in a production model until now.
“If these jewels of the interior are the parts that people interact with most, then let’s make sure those are the very best they can be”
“It has a number of benefits,” Tomasson says. “Firstly, it ups the notion of progressiveness because it is sustainable and can be used in place of other materials such as traditional wood veneer. It is also quite sophisticated in its appearance and beautiful to touch. We’ve placed it in a way that is striking to make a bold statement for the interior, and we’ve been able to use technology to reduce the number of overcoatings and layers so that the feel and texture of the material comes through. It helps hide the air vents too.”
A total of 14 pieces are used within the cabin, each possessing a unique grain. The most prominent of these pieces are the ones that are used for the middle layer of the dash and along half of the front doors, which can be lit by ambient LEDs. The wood continues from the rear half of the back doors and wraps around behind the back seats, providing a clear and continuous shape to the entire interior. The centre console also includes the wood, as do smaller sections of the doors.
Elsewhere, Nappa leather and microfibre fabrics adorn the dash and doors. Almost everything within reach is soft and rich to touch, providing a deliberate sensory experience that has been curated to achieve a sense of luxuriousness.
The choice and positioning of materials played a key role in the installation of the functional components, such as the screens. “We knew we were going to use Karuun from the get-go, it was a no brainer,” says Tomasson. “So we had to keep that in mind when we designed the IP, knowing that it was going to be an intrinsic element. We imagined it was a room that we needed to furnish with fixtures, making sure we used the space well and that everything was ergonomically correct too.”
The large 12.8-inch floating touchscreen sits astride the centre console. It is slightly larger than the one used in the EC6, but has the same sharp rectangular shape and retains the same slim, modern aesthetic, measuring 5.5mm in width at its thinnest point. It is positioned slightly different to account for the lower ride height of the sedan.
Another consideration for the design team was the positioning of Nomi – a digital assistant that uses four microphones with sound localisation abilities to pick up voice commands from the driver and passengers. It’s dedicated NPU core is embedded with artificial intelligence to learn user preferences and provide a personalised experience.
Nomi takes the form of a small circular device with a single flat surface that is used to anthropomorphise and project facial animations. It will swivel and face the person that interacts with it, depending on their location in the cabin.
“This means we have to have visible sight lines to Nomi, not only for the driver but also for the child in the back that may want to interact with it. That was a bit of a challenge, but I think we arrived at a good position on the top of the IP,” says Tomasson. With the large touchscreen and Nomi, the need for physical buttons inside the ET7 is almost entirely eliminated. However, there are still some placed on the steering wheel and the centre console. This was to ensure that customers have more than one option available in case they are more comfortable using the tactile approach.
Asked if it could be possible to create an interior without buttons, Tomasson warns of potential danger. “When you are reducing something down, you want to make sure that there is still a sense of substance left,” he says. “Think about a chair – at some point, if you keep reducing it, the chair will get so thin and flimsy that it won’t be functional. So we must be careful with reduction.”
“When you are reducing something down, you want to make sure that there is still a sense of substance left”
Reduction, though, aids in enhancing a sense of space, as does an emphasis on light. Tomasson refers to the process of buying or renting a property to live in: “One of the first things you will likely evaluate when you go to view it is the amount of natural light. Enhancing that light is a simple way of making people more comfortable. Our SUVs have nice big sunroofs to look out of, and we’ve done the same with the ET7. I think there is so much potential in lighting, both natural and fixtures within the car, so we will try to do more with it in the future.”
As a whole, the interior of the NIO ET7 exudes a certain confidence. A clear sense of calm and serenity is achieved through material and colour choice, as well as clever use of reduction.
Yet functionality has clearly been taken into consideration. The design team at NIO have been very deliberate with their choices, and it has paid off. “The ultimate expression for the interior is important for me,” Tomasson says. “The feeling of roominess, the attention to detail, the light, the comfort – I think it is a very unique experience, especially in the sedan world. Hopefully it will be a marker for sophistication and attention to detail. I think that is what people are looking for, it’s not down to how many styling lines you have anymore.”
Head of design: Kris Tomasson
Interior team leader: Thibaut Dereymacker / Zeal Kim
Colour and trim leader: Franziska Ritz / Florian Schmid
Digital Modeling Lead: Bart Vrolijk / Christian Delgado
Project manager: Elias Christ / Pey Ooi
Project started / completed: October 2019 – January 2021
Launch: Nio Day Jan. 2021
Length (OAL): 5098 mm
Height (OAH): 1505 mm
Width (OAW): 1987 mm
Wheelbase (WB): 3060 mm
Text: Michael Nash