The first time I saw the Xpeng Motors P7 at the 2019 Shanghai Auto Show, I knew it would rank high on my list. I recently spoke with the designers of the electric vehicle (EV) to find out their motivation and inspiration for the car’s design. What they told me was different and surprising. I was even more surprised by the way the conversation took a different direction than expected. I will be at the Guangzhou Auto Show in a few days to see the official unveiling and write more about it on CleanTechnica, but this piece covers that initial interview with the designers.
When Designing A Car Isn’t About Designing a Car
Conversations with automotive designers usually take on two flavors. They either boast or they can be fun, almost irreverent. The Xpeng P7 designers showed me another facet I wasn’t expecting. These designers don’t want their names out there – perhaps just yet. They want to be in the shadows creating and working. What they told me is the story of an EV that wasn’t designed with the usual automotive cues and language we’ve come to expect. It was designed with another mindset. It was designed mostly for a Chinese market that favors large interiors. Sports cars are not very popular and buyers particularly dislike cramped interiors.
The P7 was a clean sheet design without references to other cars, without references to a past era, or so I was told. The designers told me they were more interested in the look and feel of a high-level chef in a modern fusion cuisine where salty mixes with sweet. Sculpture was a motivation for the early design sketches. They were adamant there were no traditional referrals from any automotive designers. They said they wanted a new design language as unencumbered by traditions and trends as possible. In this instance, I feel the P7 is a radical change in direction from what other Chinese carmakers have penned. It feels the company is coming into its own design language.
The Internet is ripe with aficionados liking one car to another. Obvious references to Porsche and Tesla are to be expected. But the P7 stands out when you see it live. It is sleek and sporty with perfect exterior proportions. I’m told the interior will be more spacious than any other the car’s size.
The P7’s designers hail from all over the world – China, France, Korea, India, and the US – and designed it 2 or 3 years ago. They wanted something different from the previous, more conventional G3 SUV. They wanted to convey a sense of motion and natural form – something I feel it does at standstill. They also wanted to give it a sporty styling but with an opulent interior space so dear to the Chinese market. They told me they wanted to strike an “inner vitality, the life force, the ever-evolving progression from present to future.”
To emphasize the dynamic impression of a coupe, the P7’s silhouette was lowered and the A-pillar moved further back. This complements the dynamic side profile as a fastback which harmonizes the overall balance of the sedan. It’s meant to trigger a sense of science fiction and futuristic design with iconic Sci-Fi elements.
“We sought to express the ever-changing interplay of light and shade over the curves of the exterior profile, and express vitality through the modulation and transition of light along with the coachwork.”
They said that if a feature or a detail reminded them of another car they would stop. They wanted to make sure they weren’t copying what has already been copied. That might surprise many who see China as just copying Western designs, but that is no longer true, as I saw at the last Shanghai Auto Show this year. China is the largest global automotive market and knows it needs its own design language.
The design cues are from robotic sensors – the eye of wisdom, as they call it – shown in the headlamps. The robotic sensors inspired by a Star Wars lightsabers in the sidelights contrast with the headlamps.
Getting Xpeng Onboard the P7
The design team said they had to sell the design to the Xpeng executive team. That honesty was refreshing. Discussion between design and the executive had an unforeseen outcome. It brought everyone closer and created an Xpeng unified language.
The design team is particularly proud of its ambient lights that are all the rage today. They reminded me they designed it 3 years ago. They connect with people on the street or send visual signals when charging, even when passing another car as if it was alive and acknowledging another’s presence. Xpeng will have 6 animation themes available through over the air (OTA) updates. They are working on more – they are open to having a personalized light signature.
Xpeng Strikes a Unique Design Note with the P7
I found this young talent team very refreshing despite. The Xpeng P7 would do well on European and North American roads, as well as China’s. This works very well in Xpeng’s favor, a company making a name for itself in the domestic market. The design team said they wanted to have a vibrant design not born out of formal aesthetics but reflecting “inner vitality, the life force, the ever-evolving progression from present to future.”
The P7 project adds a sense of futurism, of “Things to Come.” What the design team pulled off with the Xpeng P7 is a testament to Xiapeng’s out-of-the mold thinking. Unconfirmed local rumors say the Xpeng P7 could go on the market for close to $45,000. Considering it will be autonomous Level 3 ready, this is — despite what the sleek design may have made you think — on the affordable side of that market. Stay tuned for the Guangzhou Auto Show next.