China’s XPeng and the future of electric vehicles, robots and flying cars

GUANGZHOU, China – For the foreseeable future, Chinese electric car start-up XPeng is trying to boost its sales in the world’s largest auto market.

But the Chinese company Guangzhou is also exploring areas, including robotics and flying cars, that could play a role in its long-term goals.

In an interview with CNBC that aired Thursday, XPeng’s founder and CEO, He Xiaopeng, discussed the ongoing chip shortage in the auto industry and why Chinese Tesla rival is investing in robotics and flight modes of transportation.

Earlier this year, XPeng showed off a second prototype of a flying passenger car that it says has been in development for eight years. And on Tuesday, it closed the four-legged “robotic unicorn” as it pushes into new areas of business.

“With the development of technology, the form of mobility will evolve from wheels to wings, propellers, 4 feet or 2 feet,” he said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. “Technology should help people live better and happier lives. This has always been my goal.”

XPeng’s founder predicts that all automakers will become both car makers and robotics companies, a process he says could take 10 to 30 years. XPeng is viewing the robot as a transportation tool “in low-speed and random environments.”

“As it gets better and smarter in the long run, it can help us with some simple repetitive tasks. As transportation equipment becomes more and more intelligent, it can help us perform certain tasks.” That’s how we imagine it,” he said.

XPeng’s rival Tesla is also investing in robotics. Last month, CEO Elon Musk said that the company would build a humanoid robot called the Tesla Bot. Other companies have also shown robots, including Boston Dynamics and Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi.

flying cars

The X2, XPeng’s second flying car prototype and the first capable of carrying a single passenger, was unveiled in July.

The founder said the company is building out a research and development team that will “have a few hundred people.”

“We want to introduce a flying car that can take off or land vertically, a low to medium altitude flying car.”

Several auto companies, including Hyundai and China’s Geely, are developing aerial vehicles. Other companies, such as Guangzhou-based Ehang, are also working on passenger drones.

The XPeng founder said that the company will hold a press conference in the future, perhaps in a year, to discuss dimensions and prices, as well as start taking pre-orders for its flying car.

Chip shortage, new products

Like many automakers, XPeng has been affected by a global shortage of semiconductors going into vehicles. The company said deliveries of its vehicles fell in August versus July. XPeng has three cars on the market – the flagship P7 sedan, an affordable sedan called the P5 and the G3 sports utility vehicle.

The supply chain is the “biggest challenge” for the company, but he sees it as an opportunity to build resilience at the automaker.

“The pandemic has caused shortage of semiconductor chips, which is the biggest blow to our business. I expect chip shortages to subside in about 18 months from now. In the near future, the situation may get worse. ,” They said.

“XPeng is a very young company. I see this as an early test. If we can overcome the challenge and be ready for what is to come, we will do even better when our sales per year will reach 300,000 or 500,000 cars.”

Meanwhile, the company has promised to go ahead with the release of new models. On September 15, the company will officially launch its P5 sedan aimed at the mass market, after unveiling it in April. And from 2023, XPeng plans to launch at least two or three new vehicle models every year. In preparation for this, the electric car maker is expanding its own manufacturing capacity.

The CEO said that in the future, the company will launch more cars in the range of 200,000 yuan ($30,968) to 400,000 yuan. Currently, its cheapest car, the G3, starts at around 150,000 Yuan. He also said that its models could include a larger 5-seat or 7-seat model. The company does not yet have a 7 seater model.

XPeng has tried to differentiate itself from its domestic rivals as it develops its in-house semi-autonomous driving features in a system called XPilot. Its latest version, XPilot 3.0, can be added to its cars as an optional extra and is a rival to Tesla’s Autopilot.

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

In the first quarter of the year, XPeng said it reported revenue from software for the first time, including its assisted driving system XPilot. The founder said that while most of XPeng’s revenue is now from hardware, software will be a “growing part” of that.

“My view is that after launching XPilot 4.0, we will be more focused on our software business,” he said, referring to the next version of its limited self-driving feature suite.

— CNBC’s Penny Chen contributed to this report

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect which model is the cheapest XPeng on the market.

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