On a Zoom call with reporters this week, XPeng execs talked at length about some fresh semi-autonomous driving news and a bit about plans in the next couple of years. I asked whether they had a plan or rough expectation for when they think they can get to robotaxi-ready “Level 4” or “Level 5” autonomy. XinZhou Wu, Vice President of Autonomous Driving at XPeng, indicated they were planning to reach “Level 4 Light” autonomy in 18–24 months. [Full disclosure: I own some shares of XPeng.]
For those who have been following autonomy discussions, this is basically the same idea as the “feature-complete Full Self Driving (FSD)” Elon Musk was talking about quite a bit in 2019. Before the Tesla team determined it needed to do a full rewrite of the FSD code, the expectation was that feature-complete FSD would be out by the end of 2019. Now, following the rewrite, this is basically the “FSD Beta” that two to three thousand people seem to have that allows for door-to-door transport on a good drive — with close driver monitoring.
In the same vein, XinZhou Wu used the term “Level 4 Light” because it would provide the car with the ability to drive itself door to door, but still with the drivers closely watching and retaining responsibility.
Again, though, that’s just the plan for 1½ to 2 years from now. With that news settled, let’s move over to the more current news.
One of the biggest recent stories from the EV company is that XPeng’s third production model will reportedly have the “strongest autonomous driving architecture in its class.” That would be the P5. Using advanced LiDAR, that will come with Navigation Guided Pilot (NGP). The underlying firmware will be XPILOT 3.5, a full-stack system developed in-house at XPeng. Hardware in the XPILOT 3.5 system includes: “32 perception sensors (including 2 LiDAR units, 12 ultrasonic sensors, 5 millimeter-wave radars, and 13 high-resolution cameras) and 1 high-precision positioning unit (GNSS + IMU), integrated into 360° dual-perception fusion to provide sufficient redundancy across the perception sensors to handle challenging and complex road conditions.”
XPeng highlights that the P5 is the first production-scale* vehicle to include “automotive-grade LiDAR” (*qualified as vehicles having decently high production volumes — as some small-volume models from other brands have included it).
The P5 will also come with “Voice for Everything” as part of Xsmart OS 3.0, which will allow voice commands for a wide variety of operations.
“The P5 is the first vehicle in its class to deploy Qualcomm’s Snapdragon flagship SA8155P auto-grade computing platform, 3 times more powerful than the previous generation. It ensures seamless user control and interaction to assist, inform, and entertain driver and passengers,” the company writes.
“The P5 brings a new level in sophistication and technological advancement for smart EVs,” said He Xiaopeng, Chairman & CEO of XPeng. “Each new XPeng model aims for a new high in technology, and the P5 is our most advanced and technically ambitious model yet. Our homegrown technology, distinctive design language and user experience philosophy, all reflect XPeng’s drive to grow from its Chinese roots to realize its global vision of leading the world’s Smart EV market.”
One more major news item announced this month from XPeng is that it has signed a contract with City of Wuhan to set up a new XPeng Motors Wuhan Smart EV Manufacturing Base in the city. The new factory will have an annual production capacity of 100,000. XPeng recently sold its 20,000th vehicle, the quickest any Chinese EV startup (or I think any EV startup) has reached that volume. Aside from vehicle and powertrain production facilities, the factory will include R&D facilities.
“Smart EVs are booming in popularity in China. We have a long-term strategic roadmap to embrace the sector’s transformation. Expanding our capacity in key hubs like Wuhan plays a critical role,” said He Xiaopeng at the signing ceremony in Wuhan this month. “Wuhan’s strategic location as an auto manufacturing and distribution hub will further enhance our supply chain management, sales and distribution network in the future.”
And circling back to the topic of autonomy, XPeng recently took on a 3,000+ km trip mostly using the car’s semi-autonomous driving features. The XPeng team took a small fleet of vehicles 3,600+ km from Guangzhou to Beijing with 2,930 km of the highway driving being under the control of the NGP (Navigation Guided Pilot). They had an average of 0.71 human driver interventions per 100 km driven.
“The expedition has fully challenged the robustness and reliability of the NGP function. The results demonstrate that it is not only the strongest, but also the easiest to use autonomous driving function for production vehicles available in the market,” said He Xiaopeng at a press briefing in Beijing.
“We strive to become the world’s top autonomous driving hardware and software provider, and our strategy and R&D capabilities place us well in achieving this goal.”
On the 8-day adventure XPeng claims a 94.41% success rate for autonomously changing lanes and overtaking other cars. It had a 92.76% success rate for entering and exiting the highway. Finally, it had a 94.95% success rate going through tunnels. This was recorded from 12–15 P7 electric vehicles using the XPILOT 3.0 autonomous driving architecture. They went through 10 cities and 6 provinces. “The route was chosen to cover some of the most complex yet representative road conditions and driving scenarios in China, to fully test the NGP’s responses and effectiveness.”
The Xpeng P7 comes equipped with:
- 14 cameras
- 5 millimeter-wave radars
- 12 ultrasonic sensors
- centimeter-level high-definition positioning
- decimeter-level high-definition mapping
- the NVIDIA Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform
- Bosch iBooster brake system.
Furthermore, it is apparently the only mass produced car — of any kind — that has a 360-degree dual camera and radar fusion perception system.
What do you think of the XPeng news — recent announcements as well as its long-term plan for “Level 4 Light” autonomy?
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