A sleek, futuristic sports car toured Circuit of the Americas last week, reaching a top speed of 160 miles per hour.
Nothing unusual about that, right?
Not until you consider: The car had no driver.
The NIO EP9 set a world speed record, according to motorsports outlets, for autonomous electric cars, completing a lap of the 3.4-mile road circuit in southeast Travis Country in 2 minutes, 40.33 seconds. The same electric supercar, developed by NIO U.S. headquarters in Silicon Valley, also broke the production car lap record with a driver behind the wheel, covering the circuit in 2:11.30 and touching 170 mph.
So, yes, a skilled driver can still go faster than a car with no driver at all.
NIO, which released a video of the driverless car’s COTA lap, will hold a U.S. launch event for the $1 million car during South By Southwest at the Coppertank Event Center from March 10-12. The company hopes to drastically drop the price once the cars are mass-produced.
“At NIO, we are all about raising the bar for the entire automotive industry, and breaking records with the NIO EP9 demonstrates our expertise in the field,” Padmasree Warrior, CEO of NIO, said in a statement. “We achieved this remarkable result in an incredibly short time.
“Our goal is to be the best next-generation car company for autonomous vehicles. We look forward to sharing our vision in Austin at SXSW.”
Warrior, a native of India who’s called “Queen of the Electric Car Biz” by Fortune magazine, will deliver a keynote address at SXSW on March 11 at the JW Marriott.
NIO, created by the Chinese electric car startup NextEV, produced the vehicle in a mere four months.
The EP9’s efforts at COTA eclipsed previous marks for electric cars at Nurburgring in Germany and Circuit Paul Ricard in France, according to various motorsports publications. During its record-setting laps, the EP9 was the only car on the COTA track.
“We’re honored to be a part of NIO’s lap record. It is pretty amazing to consider,” said Katja Heim, COTA’s COO. “We all know autonomous vehicles are part of the future, and this is further proof of progress.”
For comparison’s sake, the Austin track record is 1 minute, 39.347 seconds for a Formula One car — that’s an average of 124.2 mph —1:47.412 for a WEC sports car and 2:02.135 in MotoGP.
The EP9 accelerates from zero to 124 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to NIO, and has an interchangeable battery system. It is designed to be fully charged in 45 minutes and have a range of 265 miles.