Developing all of its ADAS system software in-house is costly, but it may end up being Xpeng's ultimate secret weapon.
Xpeng Motors has made a lot of waves since the introduction of its first vehicle, the G3 compact SUV, less than three years ago. Since then, the Guangzhou-based EV startup has added a second vehicle, the P7 long-range sports sedan to its lineup, and recently, announced its next vehicle, the P5 sedan, which will be available for purchase later this year.
Oh, and during that time Xpeng also built and opened its first manufacturing plant in Zhaoqing, announced a second manufacturing facility in Guangzhou that began construction in September of last year, and then in April of 2021 announced plans for its third factory to be built in Wuhan. Xpeng will have a total annual production capacity of 300,000 vehicles once the Wuhan facility is up and running next year.
And all the while Xpeng's sales have continued an upward trajectory, surviving the COVID crisis and continue to set records. There are hundreds of electric vehicle startups in China, why has Xpeng Motors enjoyed such success while many others are struggling to survive?
First off, they are very well funded. The Chinese multinational technology company, Alibaba was one of its earliest investors and has since increased its investment in Xpeng. Then there was the company's New York Stock Exchange IPO in September of 2020 that raised an additional $1.5 billion.
However, all the money in the world isn't enough if the product isn't good, and that holds especially true in the automobile business. That begs the question: What's Xpeng doing differently that has separated them from the pack?
It may be their approach to smart cars with advanced driver's assist technology.
The key differentiator for our company against our competitors is really the smart part. Probably not many people know this but actually right after the company was founded, the decision was to develop the technology in-house. - Dr Xinzhou Wu, Vice President of Autonomous Driving, Xpeng Motors
Smart From The Start
Like Tesla, Xpeng is developing its own proprietary ADAS self-driving software in-house and isn’t relying on a 3rd party suppliers for firmware as just about every other OEM does. It's a costly, labor-intensive effort, but it appears to be paying off for the brand.
They recently completed a media event in which fifteen XPeng P7 sedans drove 2,300 miles from Guangzhou to Beijing using Xpeng's Navigation Guided Pilot, or NGP. During the eight-day journey, Xpeng recorded data from all of the vehicles and published the results. The data showed that for the vast majority of the time, NPG piloted the vehicles without any input from the drivers. The event demonstrated that Xpeng's NPG is clearly the most advanced ADAS system available from any Chinese brand.
Our core competitiveness is our end-to-end in-house software R&D for autonomous driving. In the past few years, we have developed a full-stack of self-developed technologies and implemented them into our production models. There are currently only two automakers in the world that have the end-to-end autonomous driving capability. XPeng is one of them. - Dr Xinzhou Wu, Vice President of Autonomous Driving, Xpeng Motors
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Xinzhou Wu, Xpeng's Vice President of Autonomous Driving a few months ago when InsideEVs held a live stream event to talk about the NGP cross-country media drive. It was a very interesting interview so we decided to include it in the above video and give the InsideEVs community another chance to see it.
The Xpeng P7's used in the 2,300-mile NGP media drive XPeng's P7 have been called China’s first “L3 autonomy-ready” production vehicle and are equipped with Nvidia’s self-driving supercomputer Drive Xavier. The ADAS boasts a perception suite that includes 14 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and five millimeter-wave radars, but not Lidar.
The upcoming Xpeng P5 sedan will come equipped with Xpeng's latest hardware, XPILOT 3.5, and will include Lidar sensors as well.
Xpeng is set to announce the release of its nest advancement in its ADAS system called Valet Parking Assist (VPA). The feature will be released in an OTA software update to XPeng P7 vehicles equipped with XPILOT 3.0.
The initial version of VPA is developed specifically for covered parking lots (garages) which are where the majority of Chinese residents living in cities park. VPA is a memory parking technology that memorizes the parking lot up to 1,000 meters of area.
It's the first mass production-grade autonomous parking function available and can perform without using GPS, using centimeter-level high precision real-time maps. The system needs only 10 cm (slightly less than 4 inches) of clearance on both sides of the vehicle to perform its parking task. VPA does not require any modification of the parking structure and can automatically make turns and avoid obstacles.
Once the vehicle has mapped out the parking structure, when it returns, it can autonomously hunt for an open parking spot and park the vehicle, without any intervention from the driver. Technically, the driver doesn't even need to be in the vehicle, but Chinese regulations require it. So unless the owner was willing to break the law, they need to sit in the vehicle while it performs the parking task.
We've arranged for a journalist based in China to take some video of VPA in action, once the OTA update has been distributed to customers. We're interested in seeing how well it works, and we're sure the InsideEVs community is as well. While Xpeng isn't yet selling cars in the US, they have begun shipping the G3 SUV to Norway, with more European destinations planned in the future.
We believe it's only a matter of time before Xpeng makes its way to the North American shores, given the rapid progress the company has experienced in its first few years.
So check out the video and let us know what you think in the comment section below. Is Xpeng separating itself from the pack? Do you believe they are the market leaders in self-driving tech in China? And will they catch - and perhaps surpass Tesla in self-driving tech?