Chinese XPeng and the future of electric vehicles, robots and flying cars


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GUANGZHOU, China-In the foreseeable future launch of Chinese electric cars XPeng trying to increase sales in the world’s largest car market.

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

In an interview with CNBC aired Thursday, He Xiaopeng, founder and CEO of XPeng, discussed the constant shortage of chips affecting the automotive industry and why Chinese rival Tesla is investing in robotics and flying modes of transportation.

Earlier this year, XPeng unveiled another prototype flying passenger car that it says has been evolving for eight years. And on Tuesday, that took the notice off a four-legged “robotic unicorn,” which is making its way into new areas of business.

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

The founder of XPeng predicts that all carmakers will become both carmakers and robotics companies, a process he says could take 10 to 30 years. XPeng views robots as a transport tool “in a low-speed environment and at random.”

“As it gets better and smarter in the long run, it could help us with some simple repetitive tasks. As the transport tool becomes more intelligent, it could help us take on some tasks. This is how we envision it,” he said.

XPeng’s competitor Tesla also invests in robotics. Last month, CEO Elon Musk said the company would do so build a humanoid robot named Tesla Bot. Other companies have also shown robots, including Boston Dynamics and Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi.

Flying cars

The X2, XPeng’s second prototype flying car, the first to carry passengers, was unveiled in July.

Founder He said that the company is building a research and development team that will “have several hundred people”.

“We want to present a flying car that can take off or land vertically, a flying car of low to medium height.”

Several car companies including Hyundai and Chinese Geely are developing aircraft. Other companies such as Guangzhou-based EHang are also working on passenger drones.

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

Lack of chips, new products

Like many car manufacturers, XPeng is affected global semiconductor shortage entering vehicles. The company said its thing vehicle deliveries fell in August compared to July. The XPeng has three cars on the market – the flagship P7 sedan, a cheaper 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 increase resilience with carmakers.

“The pandemic has caused a shortage of semiconductor chips, which is the biggest blow to our business. I expect the chip shortage to decrease in about 18 months. In the near future, the situation could get worse,” he said.

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

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

Meanwhile, the company has committed to continuing to release new models. On September 15, the company will officially present its P5 sedan intended for the mass market, after discovering it in April. From 2023, XPeng plans to launch at least two or three new vehicle models each year. The electric car manufacturer is preparing for that expansion of own production capacities.

The CEO said the company would launch more cars in the range of 200,000 yuan ($ 30,968) to 400,000 yuan in the future. Currently, his cheapest car, the P5, starts at 160,000 yuan. He also said that his models could include larger models with 5 or 7 seats. The company does not yet have a 7-seater model.

XPeng tried to stand out as different from domestic rivals because it is developing its own company semi-autonomous driving characteristics in a system called XPilot. Its latest version, XPilot 3.0, can be added to cars as an optional extra and rivals Tesla’s autopilot.

In the first quarter of the year, XPeng said so first recorded software revenue, which includes the XPilot driving assistance system. The founder said that although most of XPeng’s revenue now comes from hardware, software will be a “growing part” of it.

“My idea is that once we launch XPilot 4.0, we’ll focus more on the software business,” he said, referring to the next version of his limited suite of self-driving features.

– Penny Chen of CNBC contributed to this report

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