Electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors is facing a backlash from customers of its 2019 G3 model after it introduced a lower-priced, revamped version boasting a longer driving range just half a year after the launch of its first commercial model.

Why it matters: The incident is yet another hit to Xpeng’s credibility, following long delays in its production and accusations of intellectual property theft leveled against one of its executives by Tesla, his former employer.

  • Chinese media reported that hundreds of customers parked their cars in a long line outside the company’s Guangzhou headquarters over the weekend,  asking for replacements or refunds using signs and banners.

Details: Some XPeng customers had just ordered the older G3 2019 edition days ago, and accused Xpeng sales staff of cheating them by hiding the impending new release.

  • The China’s Tesla wannabe launched the G3 2020 edition, a revamped version of its first commercial model G3 SUV, on July 10. The new version has an extended New European Driving Cycle (NEDC)—a metric used to calculate how far electric vehicles can run on one charge—range of 520 kilometers with a starting price of RMB 160,000 (around $23,300).
  • Users complained that the price for the 2020 model is thousands of RMB lower than the sticker price of the premium version of its 2019 edition, though the driving range in the new model is higher by nearly half.
  • The July 10 release immediately sparked dissent among users on Chinese social media. Some customers said they were pressured by sales staff into buying the older model to take advantage of purchase subsidies which Chinese regulators are drastically reducing. The company sales personnel also reportedly kept silent when asked about new model releases.
  • Xpeng’s CEO He Xiaopeng later apologized on microblogging platform Weibo, offering a RMB 10,000 credit to buyers of the 2019 model good for purchase for the next three years. The EV company said it had offered a nearly RMB 20,000 discount for the 2019 model beginning late May, and therefore all the actual prices of G3 2019 edition are lower than those of the new models.
  • According to a survey on Weibo, more than 13,000 users voted against the compensation for “lack of sincerity,” nearly 50% of all the participants.

Xpeng is currently carefully looking into customers’ feedback. If any alleged misleading sales conduct is confirmed, we will take all necessary steps to address any misconduct issues. We will protect the rights of our customers. Our customer service team is actively reaching out to customers to address their concerns and issues.

—Xpeng Motors spokeswoman response when contacted by TechNode on Monday 

Context: Backed by big names including Alibaba, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun, and IDG Capital, Xpeng is one of the new EV makers dubbed “Tesla Killers” in China.

  • The company says it is top-ranked among Chinese EV startups in sales, having delivered an excess of 4,900 units in April and May, more than double the output of rival Nio, which reported about 2,200 units delivered over the same period.
  • Xpeng’s head of perception, Cao Guangzhi, was sued in March by his former employer. Tesla accused Cao of stealing trade secrets related to Tesla’s self-driving system, Autopilot, before joining Xpeng’s research division in the US.
  • Unhappy customers also took aim at another embattled EV maker, Nio, after the release of its ES6 with a NEDC range of 510 kilometers late last year. The range for the new model was much higher than that of its first, more premium model, the ES8 which had a maximum range of 355 kilometers, but the sticker prices were the same.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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