/Will the Chinese EV startup Xiaopeng Motors make Tesla tremble?

Will the Chinese EV startup Xiaopeng Motors make Tesla tremble?

Cars were invented to carry people between distant places with speed and convenience, but then we found that there are just too many cars out there. Then problems followed: bad traffic, crowded streets and parking lots, pollution, and upward pressure on gasoline prices.

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) startup Xiaopeng Motors thinks it has come up with a solution to free you from these annoyances.

EV startups vs. traditional automakers

Henry Xia, a graduate from Tsinghua University and co-founder and president of Xiaopeng Motors, wasn’t totally into the concept of an “internet connected car” – usually an electric vehicle (EV) that is equipped with Internet access and a wireless local area network – when he was with the Guangzhou Automobile Group. He led the R&D of the control system for several new-energy vehicles and intelligent vehicles.

Henry Xia, co-founder and president of Xiaopeng Motors.
Henry Xia, co-founder and president of Xiaopeng Motors.

It was not until after the famous American automaker Tesla opened its technologies and patents to other automakers in 2014 that Chinese tech bosses came to talk Xia into starting a new intelligent EV business.

They finally persuaded Xia to start his own business, with investments from minor tech bosses. Among the persuaders was He Xiaopeng, founder and president of Chinese mobile Internet company UCWeb, and Li Xueling, co-founder and CEO of China’s online entertainment firm YY Inc.

Apparently, what He Xiaopeng provided the EV startup was not only his money, but also his name.

“He Xiaopeng is an important reason why we named our company as Xiaopeng Motors. Also, the word ‘Xiaopeng’ can convey an amiable image,” Xia told AllChinaTech on Tuesday. “Xiao” means small, “Peng” is a mythical Chinese bird, representing luck and fortune.

Besides He and Li, Xiaopeng’s angel investors also included senior executives from Chinese tech giant Tencent and investment firm Matrix Partners China. The company landed USD 42 million in Series A financing this March.

Car the body, tech the soul

Xia founded Xiaopeng Motors with another two experts in EV and intelligent vehicles in 2014. The company now has about 200 staff, most of whom are technical staff from both traditional automakers including BMW China, Ford Asia Pacific, GAC Group, and tech companies including Alibaba, Tencent and Samsung China.

“Car plus Internet”: this was where Xia positioned his company and what has guided the manufacturing of Xiaopeng’s EV.

“In the future, cars will feature more electrification, intelligence and interconnection, especially the latter two,” said Xia.

Xpeng Beta
Xpeng Beta

The company showcased its prototype SUV Xpeng Beta this September. According to Xia, Xpeng Beta uses a Samsung 18650 battery with an energy density of 152 Wh/kg, which he claimed to be better than that of Tesla Model S. It can travel 300 km per charge.

The Xpeng Beta SUV has a 15.6-inch screen for its center control system, and a 12.3-inch LCD dashboard. It has a camera above its rear-view mirror for face identification and photo-taking. It also has a HD camera planted on its roof, which can rise above the roof to take photos and videos from a better angle, according to the company.

The vehicle has an automatic parking system, an active cruise control system and a remote control system which can enable the driver to summon the vehicle from the parking lot with a smartphone.

0-100 km/h acceleration for the vehicle in all wheel drive mode is 5.8s, and 7.9s in the two-wheel-drive mode.

What’s more important, Xia said that both the hardware and software used in their EV would be upgradable. He said the price for an Xpeng SUV would be much lower than a Tesla Model 3.

The EV industry

The EV industry is a fast developing sector in China. According to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China has seen 302,000 new energy vehicles produced during the first nine months of 2016, with 289,000 of them sold. During the same time period, 229,000 and 216,000 EVs were produced and sold, with YoY increases respectively at 118% and 128%.

There are many players in the EV industry in China. China’s BYD is currently the biggest EV maker with its popular plug-in hybrid ‘Qin’ sedan.

Chinese tech giant Alibaba showcased its connected car, the RX5 SUV, in July; Tencent works with electronics maker Foxconn to make their EV; Baidu has prepared itself for a driver’s license test for its driverless car in August; LeEco landed USD one billion for its super EV in September and showcased its LeSEE Pro super EV in America in October.

Xpeng Beta
Xpeng Beta

Xia divided Chinese EV companies into three categories: a dominant Chinese Internet company plus a Chinese automaker, a dominant Chinese Internet company plus a foreign automaker, and dominant Chinese automobile experts plus Chinese Internet experts.

He thought that Xiaopeng Motors belongs to the third category, and this gives it its own unique edge.

“In Xiaopeng Motors, ‘car’ and ‘Internet’ are equally important. China’s automobile elites and Internet experts can better understand Chinese customers,” said Xia.

“EVs have no bright future if they are not intelligent or connected to the Internet. And that’s where Chinese EV makers should work on.”

A small batch of Xiaopeng EVs will be produced by the end of 2017. But over the long term, Xia wants his company to become more a tech company than a traditional automaker.

(All photos provided by Xiaopeng Motors)