Nio's autonomous Eve electric SUV concept has Faraday Future fuming

Chinese startup NextEV launched its Nio brand last year with the 1,342-horsepower EP9 electric supercar, but now the company is focusing on a more mainstream model.

Unveiled at SXSW, the Nio Eve concept is an SUV-like self-driving car that previews the fledgling automaker’s first mass-market model. Nio plans to launch self-driving cars in the U.S. in 2020, said Padmasree Warrior, the company’s United States CEO, at the unveiling. If you think the idea of an autonomous electric SUV sounds familiar, you’re not the only the one.

Faraday Future, the U.S.-based startup backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting and his LeEco tech empire, is in the midst of launching its own electric SUV, the FF91. Nick Sampson, the automaker’s R&D boss, took to Twitter suggesting the Eve concept was a knockoff of Faraday’s car.

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but poor clones get it wrong because we are promoting individuality,” Sampson wrote.

When pressed by another Twitter user, Sampson said the design language of the two vehicles as very similar, and that they have similar wheel designs. Sampson blamed “leaks” for what he views as illicit copying of Faraday’s design, saying the FF91’s shape was locked in “well over a year ago.”

The Eve does appear to have a similar overall shape to the FF91, but the Faraday electric car doesn’t have the Nio’s massive sliding doors. What is clear is that both Faraday and Nio were aiming for the same type of vehicle: A luxury SUV with an electric powertrain, and an emphasis on autonomous driving. Nio’s planned production model could very well compete with the FF91.

That is, assuming Nio follows through with its production plans. Because while the FF91 is a production-ready model, the Eve is just a concept car. In was mum on specifications, only saying the car is fully autonomous, and that it features a futuristic digital assistant called Nomi, accessed through voice commands or an augmented reality display on the windshield. Buyers will probably need more to go on before they start plunking down cash for this latest startup-concocted electric car.