August 7th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Xpeng, which I wrote an in-depth piece on just a couple of days ago, has just filed for an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Its SEC Form F-1, filed today, is more than 200 pages long and we’ll be diving into it to see what we can learn. But the short story is that Xpeng has filed for IPO to trade under the symbol “XPEV.”
I was already planning to create resource pages on the G3, P7, and XPilot in coming days and weeks. Perhaps I will learn more from the prospectus. In the meantime, for anyone curious about the company now because of the coming IPO who missed my article the other day I strongly recommend reading it, as I don’t think there is anything else online about Xpeng that is as comprehensive as this: Who Is Xpeng?
However, to supplement that, I am going to add some commentary and context on the Xpeng story that I think may be useful.
It seems that we first covered Xpeng in January 2018, when Nicolas Zart wrote an article about Xiaopeng Motors chairman He Xiaopeng investing at least a chunk of his fortune in the startup and Alibaba, which bought Xiaopeng’s previous company, also putting in initial investment. I think I had seen early shots of the company’s first vehicle pop up and mocked as a Tesla copycat and hadn’t looked much beyond that until Zart’s article. Despite the story about He Xiaopeng’s commitment and investment, Alibaba’s investment, and some positive storytelling, I still wasn’t that intrigued. Many EV startups have come and gone in the past several years. Building cars is hard. Building high-quality cars at relatively low cost? Much harder.
Later in the year, in November 2018, another longtime EV journalist, Sebastian Blanco, wrote about the Xpeng G3 from the Guangzhou Motor Show. It was in a group of 7 electric cars he thought worth highlighting from the show, and was featured first. Some beautiful pics of a rather stunning G3 electric crossover were hard not to appreciate, even if it was still unclear if this company would actually get off the ground, let alone be successful long term. It still reminded me too much of a Tesla, coming across as a copy rather than a truly innovative original attempt. However, Blanco’s succinct but focused summary of the vehicle gave strong hints about why Xpeng was worth paying attention to and might be much more than first impressions suggested, so I’ll quote that in full:
“One of the strangest accessories on any EV at the show was the camera on the top of the Xpeng G3. The car itself is a futuristic looking CUV with a huge windshield reminiscent of the Tesla Model X (by which I mean, a bit too big if you’re driving in bright sun). Despite this and other similarities to that popular EV, it’s the large fin on top of the G3 that draws your eye. At first, it looks like a big satellite ratio antenna, but then you realize it can lift up spin around. The fin has a camera in it, which can be controlled from inside the car, a phone or using hand gestures. For example, you can hold your hand up and get it to follow you around. A peace sign will trigger the picture countdown and the ‘OK’ sign returns the camera to the forward-facing standard position. It’s intended for entertainment only and at speeds below 60 kilometers an hour (37 miles per hour), I was told, and is all about making a ‘connecting experience’ with the car.
“The Xpeng G3 goes on sale December 12th at a price of around 150,000 RMB ($21,500) after government subsidy.”
Indeed, that tech was unique. If I had dug a bit more into it back in 2018, I might have enthusiastically written “Who Is Xpeng?” back then. At the least, we published a hint at what was worth noting and focusing on regarding Xpeng. To be blunt about it: it’s a tech company.
The price was also stunning. Perhaps too stunning. It was hard to believe. Yet another reason to glance at Xpeng but not take it very seriously. How could this startup with no vehicles ever produced create a compelling electric crossover with decent range and high technology at such a low price?
(Side note: Kudos to both Nicolas and Sebastian for noticing this company early on and highlighting it briefly for the rest of us.)
In December 2018, Steve Hanley wrote about the G3 finally going on sale in China. I shouldn’t say finally. The company was founded in 2014. The company both got off the ground and brought its first vehicle to market in barely more than 4 years.
The G3 electric crossover was being offered with about 365 kilometers (227 miles) of range based on the overly optimistic NEDC testing system, which translates into perhaps 240 km (150 miles) of real-world range. That’s not the range now and isn’t appealing to many 2020 EV buyers, but that was a solid range for the end of 2018. Furthermore, comfortably seating 5, having 200 horsepower and 220 lb·ft of torque, and costing just 150,000 RMB ($21,500) post-subsidy, it looked like a steal. Was it real, for real?
Regarding semi-autonomous-driving features, He Xiaopeng noted, “self-developed innovative features, many of which are first-of-its-kind, are intended for China’s unique user behaviors and road conditions.” Over-the-air updates would also improve the car over time. I’ll reiterate: this is a tech company. Like another automaker, one from Silicon Valley, you may have heard of, tech is in its genes. (Yes, there is still an open legal case between Xpeng and Tesla. That’ll surely be a topic for another day.)
We covered Xpeng several times after those initial articles, but I didn’t end up feeling inspired enough to write about it myself until a little less than a week ago when I wrote about its plans for an US IPO. The IPO possibility was interesting in itself, but what had especially caught my attention was some commenters on a CleanTechnica.TV video highlighting that Xpeng’s autoparking feature worked much better than Tesla’s. I was curious to see more and he passed along two videos from Bjørn Nyland (timestamped to the relevant parts — here and here). Sure enough, the G3 demonstrated phenomenal self-parking abilities. Nyland was also a bit giddy and appreciative of some other unique features in (and on) the G3. Clearly, this was not just a Tesla copycat.
When I came up with an idea to have long resource pages on top cleantech companies and products, I put Xpeng on the list. Since an IPO was possibly approaching and I was especially curious about the company at this point, it’s one of the first ones I decided to work on. (No, none of these articles have been sponsored in any way. Though, if Xpeng wants to throw us some money to look at something more closely, I won’t complain and will provide the appropriate notices.)
I thought I’d do a simple resource page on what we had covered so far, who the founders and investors were, and a bit more about the tech. The more I looked into these things, though, I discovered: 1) there was very little out there about how the company got rolling (beyond He Xiaopeng’s interesting story), 2) it was a bit unclear who the founder crew actually was, 3) this was clearly a tech company — not just another young automaker trying to ride the EV wave.
Tech is deep in Xpeng’s DNA, and the company is focused on rapid development and evolution. Several core members of the company have storied careers, are worth billions of dollars due to previous tech successes, and complement each other’s expertise. They also have a top-notch finance guy to keep the wild tech geeks in line and open the right doors. Some of the core members have backgrounds in the auto industry, but even then, it seems they were primarily tech guys.
Unlike almost every other automaker out there, Xpeng does its own software for core semi-autonomous driving features and, I think, infotainment to some degree as well (maybe a large degree, but I need to dive in more there or have Chanan Bos do so since he knows much more about this tech geek stuff than I do). Unsurprisingly, Xpeng outsourced the building of its first vehicle, the G3, but it is reportedly manufacturing its second one, the P7. What Xpeng has always been focused on doing itself, though, is the tech. As I understand it, Xpeng is the only automaker that builds its own software system on top of Nvidia’s Xavier system on a chip. (Though, as I said, this is not historically my area of expertise, so I’ll cut it off there until we learn more and Chanan Bos can get the full story and explain it for laymen like me.)
There is much more to explore about the company, and we plan to explore it. Let us know what stands out to you.
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