With a megacity just 300 kilometres away, Nanjing has had to be smart. To shine from under Shanghai’s shadow, the city of eight million people is marketing itself as a greener, cleaner and cheaper alternative to its neighbour. Indeed, it was one of the first Chinese cities to deploy a smart-city strategy. It invested in an eLTE broadband system for the Asian Youth Games in 2013 and, in the same year, teamed up with German software company SAP to use big data to create a smart traffic system.
Incentives for talent, including startup funds of up to RMB 2 million, tax rebates and free office space, have paid off. The city is now recognised as a national innovation pilot city and is home to the R&D centres of numerous Fortune 500 companies and China’s largest 500 companies.
It’s a far cry from a city that once had chemicals, manufacturing, cars and steel as its four pillars of industry, as described by Frank Hossack, who runs The Nanjinger magazine. He has seen the city shift its focus to networking and cloud computing, biomedicine, energy saving technologies, new energy vehicles and other emerging industries. In 2015, income from these sectors totalled nearly RMB 600 billion.
The government is also actively marketing the city abroad. David Anderson is chief executive of Nanjing BioPoint, a spinoff of the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. His Nanjing enterprise develops and commercialises point-of-care diagnostic technologies from its base in Jiangsu Life Science and Innovation Park. A government grant helped kick start the venture, as did a long-standing sister-state relationship between Jiangsu and Victoria.
‘Nanjing has a great energy and sense of purpose, and is very welcoming for foreign entrepreneurs,’ says Anderson. ‘Local government support has been generous and absolutely essential in making progress so far, and the opportunity to engage with senior people in government, who have a very genuine commitment to the future of Nanjing and its enterprises, always gives me renewed energy for our work and our plans for the future.’
The price is right
If you are buying or selling a used car in China, Xu Wei wants his company to be the first you look to. The Nanjing-based company, Che300, provides information on used cars including their retail value, trade-in value and pre-owned value. It also supports transactions. There are plans this year to add data on new cars, too.
In January, Che300 obtained a third round investment of RMB 200 million, led by SAIC Motors. The app has been downloaded about 600,000 times, according to Xu.
The service has drawn parallels with Kelley Blue Book, the American car-pricing guide that has been around since 1926, which joined forces with Bit Auto and the China Automobile Dealers Association in 2013 to launch a venture called Jingzhengu in China.
This, along with Gongpingjia and iautos.cn, are Xu’s main competitors. But, he insists, thanks to the ‘accuracy of our data and the public praise from within the industry, we are ahead of the competition’.
Xu is an alumnus of Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where the successful Tuspark chain of business parks were founded. But after graduation he opted to found his startup in Nanjing. He points to the government incentives offered to new ventures, including interest-free loans, office space and tax deals, as paramount in his decision.
In China, new cars outdo used cars in sales, but the China Automobile Dealers Association estimates that by 2020 the number of second-hand cars sold will match the number of new cars sold. This figure is set to hit about 29.2 million – creating vast opportunities for Xu.
Nextev electric car
China’s answer to Tesla
Last year, at Germany’s celebrated Nürburgring race track, a newcomer came, saw and conquered. The NIO EP9 supercar became the fastest ever electric car on the track. It also claimed the first FIA Formula E Drivers’ Championship title.
While the US$1 million car is out of the price range for most (and not many could handle a car that goes from zero to 200 kilometres per hour in 7.1 seconds, anyway), the technology behind it is going to be deployed in
mass-market vehicles, some of which will be autonomous. ‘The NIO EP9 was born to push limits and is the first stage of automotive production for NIO,’ says William Li, the founder of NextEV, the startup that produces the car. ‘It is a statement of our vision, and technical and manufacturing capabilities. It is a best-in-class product that showcases what is possible with electric vehicles.’
The engines that will power this new fleet are being made in Nanjing. With the support of the city’s municipal government, NextEV has now built a RMB 3 billion factory, where electric motors and electronic control units will be manufactured. Production started at AMTEC (the Advanced Manufacturing Technical Engineering Centre) in October and the cars are expected to hit the roads at the second half of this year.
Li believes that the electric car arena will be the next battleground for the automotive industry; and his brand, with records and titles already, and a reported US$1 billion raised, is revving its engines. Whether it can take on Tesla, only time will tell, but Nanjing will now get a mention in the headlines as one of the production hubs for a startup that already has the automotive industry excited.
What to watch
The first residents of the Sino-Singapore Nanjing Eco Hi-Tech Island are expected to move in this year. The island will be an eco-tourism hub with high-tech farming methods, a zero-emission transportation system and low-energy buildings housing startups and tech giants like IBM.
Nanjing is a key city on the Maritime Silk Road, part of the Belt and Road initiative to more closely link countries spanning from Asia to Europe. The city is a logistics hub with a vibrant port but also an extensive rail network that includes a route to Moscow.
The China-wide Thousand Talents Programme, launched in 2008, encourages foreigners under 55 with skills relating to innovation to move to China. In Nanjing, the incentives include concessions for buying property; subsidised places at public schools for their children; and tax concessions.