Electric cars

Tesla challenger Xpeng to roll out first electric car next month ahead of new credit system designed to promote China’s EV market

  • Chinese start-ups are investing billions of dollars in advanced technologies to challenge Telsa and established carmakers in EV market
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 11:01pm

Xpeng Motors, the electric car start-up backed by Alibaba Group Holding, said it will roll out its first mass-produced model next month as more Chinese firms step up to challenge US giant Tesla for the hearts and minds of local drivers.

The move comes 17 months after the Guangzhou-based carmaker received its safety certification from the industry watchdog and 10 months since it unveiled the electric car model at the CES show in Las Vegas.

“It’s a challenge for any new EV manufacturer to ramp up production and meet delivery targets,” Xpeng chairman and chief executive He Xiaopeng said on the sidelines of the Guangzhou auto show on Friday, adding that quality has been the priority over speed to market.

“It is not a race. There’s no short cut. It’s about gaining consumer confidence in our products and services and building a solid reputation for the EV sector in China,” he said.

Xpeng, or Xiaopeng in Chinese, is one of dozens of electric car start-ups that have emerged in recent years after the government started issuing special manufacturing permits to companies outside traditional auto industry players.

Venturing into territory dominated by foreign carmakers like GM, Toyota Motor and Volkswagen, the Chinese start-ups are investing billions of dollars in advanced technologies ranging from autonomous driving and voice control to other bespoke smart features, hoping to upend the giants and take on Tesla which is close to building a factory in Shanghai, its first factory outside the US.

China’s drive to become world’s most powerful electric car maker

China has been revving up efforts to promote the sector and will enforce a “dual credit” scheme starting from January. Under the new policy, local and foreign carmakers have to meet minimum production requirements for new-energy vehicles. Credits can be bought or sold to meet government targets and those falling short will face penalties, including fines and even factory shut downs.

Despite not having its first production vehicle ready till now, Xpeng has raised over 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) since its establishment in 2014, attracting Alibaba, Foxconn Technology Group, and Hillhouse Capital among its investors.

Featuring a windscreen that extends back to give occupants a sky view and Star Wars-inspired headlights, the G3 model that is slated for delivery on December 12 is also equipped with a voice-activated artificial intelligent assistant, auto parking and “over the air” cloud upgrades.

“Renewability is a major feature to set smart cars – in the real sense – apart,” said Brian Gu, Xpeng’s vice-chairman and president, adding that the company’s independent research on auto-parking and bottom-up layout enables timely upgrades of all in-car software including autonomous driving features.

Research staff account for about two thirds of Xpeng’s total workforce of over 3,000, according to Gu.

The fully electric, five-seat compact SUV is priced between 200,000 to 280,000 yuan before government subsidies. In comparison, Tesla’s Model X starts from 887,600 yuan.

WM Motor and NIO, two other Chinese EV competitors backed by Tencent Holdings and Baidu respectively, rolled out their new models earlier this year. With a five month head start over Xpeng, New York-listed NIO has delivered over 3,000 vehicles and is expected to deliver between 6,700 and 7,000 in the fourth quarter, it said in a quarterly filing. WM Motor targets annual deliveries of 10,000 by the year end.

Xpeng said it plans to open 15 direct sales and service stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hangzhou before Lunar New Year in 2019, and will expand the scale to almost 70 by the end of next year. In the same time frame the company will have 200 of its super charging stations available for drivers.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.