Ex-employee Zhang Xiaolang denies stealing Apple’s self-driving car tech for Chinese firm

China’s Xiaopeng Motors is assisting US authorities, but denies any involvement in the alleged theft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 9:07pm

A former Apple engineer charged with stealing self-driving car secrets for a Chinese start-up pleaded not guilty in US federal court in San Jose, California.

Zhang Xiaolang entered the plea through his lawyer on Monday. He was arrested just before boarding a flight to China on charges that he downloaded proprietary files while preparing to leave the iPhone maker and go to work for Guangzhou-based Xiaopeng Motors, also known as Xmotors.

US Magistrate Judge Virginia K. DeMarchi had previously granted Zhang’s release. He’s working to secure bail of US$300,000 with property, according to his lawyer, Daniel Olmos. Zhang, wearing a dress shirt and khakis and accompanied by a woman, was silent during Monday’s hearing and listened through an interpreter.

Chinese firm denies involvement in alleged theft of Apple self-driving car tech

Tamara Crepet, a federal public defender who initially represented Zhang, told the judge Zhang makes too much money to be represented by her office.

Prosecutors said Zhang admitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he downloaded Apple driverless technology files to his wife’s laptop to have continued access to them.

Xmotors previously said it’s cooperating with authorities but that it found no indication Zhang ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to his new employer. The company also said it has always strictly abided by the laws of China and the US and takes protection of intellectual property rights seriously.

Prosecutor Matt Parrella told the judge Zhang faces a single count of trade-secret theft and faces as long as 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine if convicted.

Apple’s self-driving car project is a rare initiative by the company that has played out in the public eye over the past few years. In 2015, Apple executives approved a plan to build a self-driving, electric vehicle to take on Tesla and the Detroit auto industry. Apple hired more than 1,000 engineers.