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UPDATE 2-Tesla challenger Nio says talks with Guangzhou Automobile in early stage

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Jan 15 (Reuters) - Tesla challenger Nio Inc said on Wednesday it was exploring financing and strategic opportunities with Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd , but the talks were in a preliminary stage.

Earlier in the day, news website Sina Finance reported that Nio was in talks with Guangzhou Automobile to finance up to $1 billion, sending U.S.-listed shares of the electric-car maker up about 17% in heavy trading.

Electric-car makers are battling uncertain demand in China, the world's largest car market, as it rolls back subsidies on new energy vehicles amid criticism that some firms have become overly reliant on funds.

Nio on Dec. 30 warned in its quarterly report that the company did not have adequate cash for continuous operation in the next 12 months and it was looking for external financing.

The U.S.-listed shares of the electric-car maker jumped as much as 17% to $4.40 in late afternoon trading.

Nio said the New York Stock Exchange had contacted it after the unusual market activity in its American Depositary Shares.

Guangzhou Automobile (GAC Group) operates in nearly 18 markets worldwide and had sold over 2.1 million cars in 2018, including those made in partnerships with automakers Honda Motor Co Ltd, Toyota Motor Corp and Mitsubishi Corp .

The Guangzhou-based automaker has been looking to operate in the U.S. market since 2017, but had put off its plans indefinitely in May last year amid rising trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. (Reporting by Ambhini Aishwarya in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)