Electric-Vehicle Startup XPeng Bets On Tech That Tesla Rejects
Kanebridge News
Share Button

Electric-Vehicle Startup XPeng Bets On Tech That Tesla Rejects

One of three U.S.-listed Chinese EV makers, it is relying on innovation to overtake its rivals.

By Trefor Moss
Fri, Apr 16, 2021 11:45amGrey Clock 4 min

GUANGZHOU—Once a Tesla Inc. fan who owned four of its vehicles, He Xiaopeng, co-founder of Chinese electric-vehicle startup XPeng Inc., now wants to overtake the car company that originally inspired him.

While acknowledging Tesla as an inspiration, Mr. He said XPeng—one of three Chinese EV companies listed in the U.S.—can win using innovation, an area in which Chinese technology companies have become increasingly formidable.

“We have a saying in China,” Mr. He said in an interview Wednesday at XPeng’s headquarters in the southern city of Guangzhou. “To defeat someone, you need to do something different.”

XPeng, alongside its U.S.-listed peers Li Auto Inc. and Nio Inc., has taken investors on a wild ride over the past eight months.

The company’s August listing on the New York Stock Exchange valued it at US$8 billion. By November its value had jumped to nearly $58 billion. Now it is back down to about US$27 billion. In March, the Shanghai-based research firm Hurun Report said Mr. He was worth US$11 billion.

XPeng unveiled its third production vehicle, the P5 sedan, in Guangzhou on Wednesday. Deliveries of the P5, which is said to have approx. 600km driving range, are due to start this year. The company didn’t announce the car’s price, though it will be lower than the in-production P7 sedan, which starts at roughly $60,000 and is a direct competitor of the made-in-China Tesla Model 3, which costs the equivalent of about $66,900.

XPeng began low-volume exports to Europe in December and plans to enter the U.S. market in the future.

Considered by some analysts as the most tech-centric of China’s EV players, Xpeng deploys a voice-operated user interface in its cars, and an autonomous-driving system for use on stretches of highway with 5G internet coverage.

It recently tested the software by sending a fleet of its cars on a 3540km trip from Guangzhou to Beijing, and logging 0.71 human-operator interventions per 100 km—a new benchmark for self-driving cars, the company claimed. On the roughly 320km Shanghai to Nanjing leg attended by the Journal, the car’s human operator intervened once, swerving when the car failed to notice a bus changing lanes ahead.

XPeng claims its autonomous-driving systems, which have previously used radar and cameras, will be significantly enhanced by the addition of lidar, which uses lasers to scan the vehicle’s surroundings—and which Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has dismissed as a waste of money. Xpeng says the new P5 is the first Chinese EV that comes with lidar as standard.

XPeng sold 13,340 vehicles in the first quarter of 2021 and likely needs to sell as many cars every month to break even, said Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights, a consulting firm. Mr. He said in the interview that he was focused on building revenue and growing XPeng’s reputation, rather than on profit.

Tesla sold 69,280 vehicles in China in the January-to-March period, according to the China Passenger Car Association, while Nio sold 20,060 cars.

XPeng is in a strong position as a car company whose main asset is its software, Mr. Le said. “The post-1990s generation in China are all digital natives, and they like Chinese brands,” he said. “What XPeng is doing plays very well with that young Chinese consumer.”

At a moment of rising nationalism in China, homegrown brands have generally been gaining ground on Western ones among local consumers, from clothing to cars.

Mr. He this month announced plans for a third XPeng plant in Wuhan; its second plant, in Guangzhou, is still being built. The three plants will give the company an expected production capacity of 300,000 cars a year.

XPeng last year unveiled a prototype flying car that Mr. He said was far from being a gimmick and potentially key to the company’s future. The company’s growing fleet of EVs is just a starting point for a company with ambitions to define “the future commute,” he said.

Originally a computer programmer, the 43-year-old Mr. He, who comes from the central city of Huangshi, founded UCWeb Inc., a mobile-browser developer, in 2004. He sold the company to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. a decade later in what was then China’s biggest internet merger, and worked as a senior Alibaba executive until 2017 before leaving to run XPeng, which he had co-founded as an investor in 2014.

The birth of his son in early 2017 jolted Mr. He into starting something new, he said. He settled on EVs despite having no automotive background and, by his own admission, regarding the overheated EV sector as “a crazy business.”

“I wanted my son to think that he had a cool dad,” he said.

Unable to persuade Alibaba to let him develop an EV in-house, Mr. He joined XPeng as full-time chief executive and brought the e-commerce giant on board as an investor. Alibaba owns 12.5% of the company, while Mr. He holds 22.7%. Alibaba didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. He said he only fully realized the difficulty of teaming software engineers with car mechanics when the company produced its first working prototype in late 2017.

The XPeng team was moved to tears when the vehicle rolled out: Engineers wept with joy because the machine worked, while the software developers were heartbroken because to them the unpainted and incomplete test-model “looked like trash,” Mr. He said.

The experience taught Mr. He and his software colleagues that developing a competitive car would be an arduous, years-long process.

Mr. He said his priority was to build XPeng into a global company rather than to outflank Tesla or other competitors, but there is open enmity between Mr. He and the company that once inspired him.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against a former employee who had quit Tesla to join XPeng, alleging that he had downloaded its Autopilot source code with a view to handing it over to his new employer. XPeng was never a party to the legal case and said it is “confident we have engaged in no wrongdoing.”

In November, Mr. Musk trashed XPeng’s autonomous-driving system, saying on Twitter that “they have an old version of our software” and alleging that intellectual-property theft “was just an XPeng problem. Other companies in China have not done this.”

Mr. He fired back on Weibo. “It seems XPeng’s next-generation autonomous driving architecture…has made someone in the West feel very upset,” he said.

“Elon Musk is an amazing person and a great entrepreneur, despite some flaws,” Mr. He said in the Wednesday interview. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 15, 2021.



MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Property
Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend
By TRACY KALER 22/04/2024
Lifestyle
Millennials Are Coming for Your Golf Communities
By JESSICA FLINT 21/04/2024
Lifestyle
The Longevity Vacation: Poolside Lounging With an IV Drip
By ALEX JANIN 16/04/2024
Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend

Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

MOST POPULAR

Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Money
Who Gets Promoted to the C-Suite—and How That Has Changed Over the Decades
By PETER CAPPELLI 17/01/2024
Money
Australia Will Avoid Recession Thanks to Gen X, BlackRock Says
By JAMES GLYNN 12/03/2024
Money
Investing in Nature Is Gaining Traction. Will It Be Enough?
By ABBY SCHULTZ 10/01/2024
0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop