China’s answer to Tesla will be powered by software from Alibaba

Xpeng P7 intelligent EV coupe

The Xpeng P7 semi-autonomous electric coupe will become the first car to feature Alibaba’s app platform

by Max Smolaks 30 September 2019

Chinese electric vehicle startup Xiaopeng Motors has announced that its upcoming Xpeng P7 coupe will become the first-ever car powered by a purpose-built application platform from Alibaba.

Alibaba’s In-Car Mini intends to offer an app ecosystem tailored specifically for smart vehicles, fully integrated with AI-powered vision and voice technologies.

The company said the platform, which is open to third-party developers, will initially focus on driver-centric functions related to location, navigation, traffic status, travel assistance and driver condition monitoring.

Xpeng has also revealed that the P7 will be the first car to use a digital key with biometric authentication based on the standards developed by China’s Internet Finance Authentication Alliance (IFAA).

The Xpeng P7, expected to launch in the spring of 2020, will support Level 3 autonomous driving, a.k.a. “eyes off” – with the driver able to safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks, to browse the Internet or watch a movie.

For comparison, Tesla’s Autopilot functionality is currently classified as Level 2 or “hands off,” with the driver still required to monitor the road.

Car as a platform

Xpeng was established in 2014 to build Internet-enabled cars that utilize the latest advances in artificial intelligence, with funding from investors including Alibaba Group, Foxconn and IDG Capital. It has amassed $1.3bn in venture capital to date.

Somewhat surprisingly for an electric car maker, Xpeng’s first product was an SUV: the G3, launched in 2018, offers top speed of 170km per hour, and driving range of around 300km – due to be expanded to 520km in the 2020 model.

The company has made just 10,000 G3 units to date, but it has been busy expanding its physical presence, with more than 40 retail and service locations across China, and another 80 expected by the end of the year.

Xpeng is also building its fully-owned intelligent factory in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, targeting completion in Q3 2019.

The autonomous features of its cars are powered by a proprietary operating system called Xsmart. The current version enables features like automatic lane change, intelligent cruise assist, automatic emergency brake and forward collision warning.

The P7, unveiled at the Auto Shanghai show in April 2019, will double down on autonomy under the hood, while Alibaba’s In-Car Mini will bring AI technologies to the dashboard.

“We are very proud to have partnered with Alibaba to tailor make the In-Car Mini APP with real-time vehicle-to-app interaction needed by smart cars,” said Rocky Liu, general manager of Internet Technology at Xpeng.

“Alibaba provides the highest level of security and trust to complement the cutting-edge technology in our upcoming P7 coupe. We are very excited about the immense promise and the variety of choices it brings to our customers.”

The similarities between G3 and Tesla Model X, or P7 and Tesla Model S – from overall design cues to retractable door handles and logo positioning – haven’t gone unnoticed: two Xpeng employees have been accused of stealing trade secrets related to self-driving tech from Apple and Tesla, including the source code for Tesla’s Autopilot.

The company’s founder, He Xiaopeng, has long maintained that he was inspired by Tesla, and that Xpeng used some of the patents that the US company famously open-sourced. Xpeng itself is not implicated in the lawsuits, but it has promised to carry out an internal investigation relating to the alleged theft.