Xpeng Motors is tired of Elon Musk's repeated accusations about intellectual property theft and broke its months-long silence on the issue. This came following a tweet Musk made last week after Xpeng announced it will be the first electric vehicle automaker to include lidar on its vehicles.
Earlier this year we posted a deep dive into the IP theft allegations, and thoroughly explained the entire situation.
This is all about an ex-Tesla employee, Guangzhi Cao, who left Tesla to work for Xpeng's US subsidiary, XMotors. Tesla later found out the Cao has downloaded a copy of Tesla's autonomous driving code while he was working for Tesla, which is not illegal but is understandably against company policy.
Tesla filed the lawsuit against Cao in March of 2019, alleging that the former autonomous driving technology engineer took Tesla's proprietary Autopilot source code. It's Tesla's belief that Cao downloaded the source code to give to his new employer.
Cao admits that he did download Tesla's Autopilot source code, but that he deleted it and never provided XMotors with any of it.
The timeline of events in the Tesla vs Cao case:
- Tesla filed a civil lawsuit against ex-employee Guangzhi Cao on March 21, 2019.
- In July of 2019, Cao admitted he uploaded Tesla’s source code to his iCloud while he was working for Tesla.
- During the past 18 months, XMotors as a non-party cooperated and provided a digital image of Cao’s work laptop and his communications.
- Tesla issued the 2nd subpoena on Jan 7, 2020, to XMotors.
- XMotors filed Motion to Quash on Mar 31, 2020.
- Tesla filed an Opposition on April 13th, seven days later the court issued an order asking Tesla to reduce the 25-page content to the normal 15 pages. Tesla re-filed on April 23rd.
- XMotors filed a Reply on April 25th.
- XMotors has agreed and offered to provide a copy of its source code to a neutral 3rd party to compare to Tesla's in an effort to prove nothing was copied.
Then, after Xpeng's lidar announcement from the Guangzhou Motor Show last week, Tasha Keeney posted the tweet below, which caught Elon's eye and inspired him to bring up the court case against his ex-employee again.
Xpeng's response regarding the civil case between Tesla vs Dr. Guangzhi Cao:
- Neither Xpeng nor our subsidiary, XMotors, is a party to the case (i.e. Tesla’s civil litigation is against a former employee of XMotors).
- The court has made no findings suggesting that XMotors engaged in any wrongdoing. After 20 months of litigation, Tesla has failed to produce any credible evidence that:
- XMotors ever knew about any source code downloads;
- XMotors ever encouraged or solicited Cao for such downloads;
- XMotors ever hired or induced Cao to obtain such information;
- XMotors ever came into possession of or used any Tesla information from Cao;
- XMotors ever benefited from such information.
3. XMotors has fully cooperated with Tesla for the past year, including voluntarily providing a large amount of confidential information in the discovery process.
We respect other competitors’ IP and advancement and welcome fair competition. We will also vigorously defend our reputation against any baseless allegations.
Transforming EVs through in-house R&D has always been the cornerstone of Xpeng’s strategy and mission since its foundation. We are pursuing a differentiated approach to autonomous driving, based on proprietary R&D and intellectual property. The application of Lidar in mass-market vehicles is an example of this differentiated approach and is another vindication of the company’s end-to-end in-house R&D capability. The news has attracted encouraging comments.
However, it is disappointing that some people took the opportunity to make certain accusations and remarks that are baseless, irresponsible. It is bullying behavior. These irresponsible remarks and accusations will not stop us – or any other companies in the smart EV industry - from pursuing technology advancement.
Elon then followed up his original reply with another aimed at reminding his followers that he's not down on all Chinese companies, just Xpeng.
Xpeng's founder and CEO, He Xiaoping, took to the Chinese social media site, Weibo and promptly mocked Musk for his recent comments. The post didn't translate perfectly, but you can see he definitely threw down the gauntlet with regards to self-driving features and said Xpeng will beat tesla out of its mind on Chinese roads, while on international roads, they will be just as good as Tesla's system:
"It Seems that Xiaopeng next generation autonomous driving architecture that we unveiled yesterday, which includes lidar, has upset someone in the west by pigu(?) continuously.
What I'm trying to say is that rumormongering has long proved impossible to beat any competitor. From next year, self driving in China, you should be prepared for us to beat you out of your mind. As for international, we will meet each other."
That's unusually strong language for a CEO to throw around. However, my sources at Xpeng tell me they are really tired of Musk continuing to throw out unsubstantiated allegations. They claim they've done nothing wrong, have done everything they've been required to, and have nothing to hide.
Gallery: Xpeng P7 Performance
Intellectual property theft is a serious problem, and unfortunately, many Chinese companies have been guilty of stealing western tech and have gone unpunished for a long time now. However, to date, there doesn't appear to be any proof at all that Xpeng or its subsidiary XMotors had anything to do with Cao copying Tesla's code, or that they ever benefited from it.
We just can't allow ourselves to assume XMotors was complicit in wrongdoing in this case, simply because other Chinese companies have done what XMotors is being accused of. In America, we require facts to convict someone, and so far, with over a year and a half of investigations, there doesn't appear to be any credible evidence to accuse Xpeng or XMotors of taking or using Tesla's source code. If that changes, we'll be the first to report on it.