Xpeng, which is often being hailed as a “Tesla rival,” has been using Tesla’s patents to make vehicles that are very similar to Teslas, but it is now adding lidar to its vehicles for its self-driving capabilities. Xpeng will become the first passenger vehicle maker to add lidar sensors to mass-produced cars next year.
In a statement, Xpeng said that the adoption of lidar will “significantly improve” the accuracy of positioning relative to other vehicles and objects. This will help avoid collisions. CEO He Xiaopeng called it a “breakthrough in popularizing autonomous driving.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims that Xpeng is only using lidar because it doesn’t have Tesla’s neural network capabilities.
They have an old version of our software & don’t have our NN inference computer
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2020
Elon Musk has mentioned several times that Tesla’s Autopilot team had to do a full rewrite of the Autopilot firmware that is now enabling Tesla’s full self-driving technology in some early beta cars.
Regarding the other matter …
Apple & Tesla Both Accused Xpeng Of Trying To Steal IP
Back in 2018, Xiaolang Zhang was arrested by US authorities at the San Jose International Airport for stealing information related to Apple’s self-driving car project. While being arrested, Zhang admitted to working for a Chinese startup that is also developing autonomous vehicles. That startup was Xpeng. Zhang was accused of downloading files that included engineering schematics and technical reports before leaving to work for Xpeng.
Zhang worked as a hardware engineer on Apple’s autonomous vehicle development team and had “broad access to secure and confidential internal databases containing trade secrets and intellectual property,” according to a complaint that was filed back in 2018.
In the case of Tesla, the Silicon Valley company has accused an ex-employee of downloading Autopilot source code to bring to Xpeng — a similar story.
In both cases — with Tesla and Apple — Xpeng claims that it didn’t receive any sensitive information from either company and didn’t know anything about those people downloading code from Tesla that they might bring to Xpeng. Xpeng has told The Verge as well as CleanTechnica that it, as a very tech focused company with several highly successful tech leaders on its founding team, “fully respects any third-party’s intellectual property rights and confidential information,” while adding that it never got or asked for code from Apple or Tesla. Xpeng also claimed that it wasn’t aware of any alleged misconduct by Tesla’s former employee. Furthermore, the company indicated to CleanTechnica that its vehicle and autonomous tech timeline doesn’t even line up with the alleged complaints.
Some Thoughts On The Matter
Although we have no legal proof of Xpeng actually stealing from Tesla, it does look really odd that Xpeng has had more than one employee that has admitted to stealing documents from their previous employers. (Note that neither employee works at Xpeng today, presumably being dropped in part because of these cases.)
Yes, Xpeng has said it was inspired by Tesla — to the point of nearly copying Tesla’s website and making vehicles that look eerily similar to Tesla’s. But there’s a difference between being inspired and copying.