Often described as China's Tesla, electric vehicle startup Nio is calling for the same access to the US market that Tesla has in China.

Arguing that carmakers should not be involved in political tensions between the two nations, William Li, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based Nio, called on the US government to offer Chinese EVs equal access to the American market.

"The world should be more open and stop politicizing business," Li said in an interview with Financial Times, questioning why Chinese companies are facing hurdles selling their EVs to US consumers. It's worth noting that Tesla has a major factory in China, while Nio hasn't announced any plans to build EVs in the US.

Nio sees itself as an international company, with Li noting that besides being listed in New York, the EV maker has more than three-quarters of its investors based outside China.

Li's criticism of US protectionism comes as Chinese EV makers, including Nio, BYD, XPeng and Li Auto, are aggressively expanding overseas, relying increasingly more on exports. The uncertainty over US market access for Chinese companies is obviously a major obstacle for their development.

Gallery: 2023 Nio EL6

Access to the US is complicated by high tariffs on vehicles from China and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is designed to boost domestic manufacturing and reduce American economic dependency on China. 

As a result, there's high uncertainty over access to US subsidies and the treatment of Chinese-branded vehicles and China-made EV components in the US market under IRA. "Chinese consumers have a wide range of [new energy vehicles] to choose from. Why can't these products be enjoyed by US consumers as well?" Li said.

The executive's call for improved market access to the US comes as China is expected to overtake Japan as the world's biggest car exporter this year – China overtook Germany and took the second spot last year. 

Given the hurdles to selling cars in the US, Nio and other Chinese EV makers are focusing their exports on Europe, where a rapid switch from internal combustion engines to EVs is taking place fueled by new emissions rules.

Nio last year began installing battery swap stations across Europe, allowing owners of its EVs to swap their depleted batteries for new ones in a fully automated process that takes just minutes. The company is targeting around 1,000 such stations in the region by 2025. 

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