Xpeng Motors CEO He Xiaopeng promised Wall Street analysts May 13 that the company would roll out a new generation of autonomous driving (AV) software early next year. The company said recently that its Xpilot 3.5 system will be able to drive autonomously 90% of the time.

Why it matters: Improved AV capabilities could give the electric vehicle (EV) startup a leg up as it faces challenges. Last week, Chinese tech giants set out ambitious targets for their self-driving tech businesses in partnership with legacy automakers.

Earnings: Xpeng on Thursday reported a record RMB 2.95 billion ($450.4 million) in revenue in its first-quarter results, rising more than sixfold from a year earlier, exceeding a consensus estimate from analysts polled by FactSet, according to MarketWatch. However, Xpeng shares fell 4.8% to $23.56 on Thursday following the call.

  • Gross margin expanded to 11.2% from 7.4% in the fourth quarter last year and losses attributable to shareholders was flat quarter on quarter at RMB 786.6 million.
  • The young EV maker also revealed its software figures for the first time, generating around RMB 80 million ($12.4 million) in software revenue in the first quarter, and accounting for 2.5% of gross profits.
  • Approximately 25% of P7 owners, Xpeng’s first sedan upgradable to advanced self-driving capability, have bought their cars with Xpilot 3.0 for an additional one-time fee ofof RMB 20,000 as of March, according to He. The company had delivered around 23,000 P7 sedans as of March.

Race to AV: He was asked about competition from Baidu and Huawei, which last month made public debuts of self-driving systems for city streets. He said the AV solutions provided by some companies are currently for limited driving scenarios or “at a very high cost.”

  • In late January, Xpeng launched its Xpilot 3.0 advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), which allows vehicles to drive themselves on national highways.
  • During an online conference on Apr 20, Wu Xinzhou, vice president of autonomous driving, said Xpilot 3.5 could allow autonomous driving on 90% road travel from the current 10%, as the function extends its reach from highways to city streets.
  • “We are coming up with a solution that can balance all the aspects with a reasonable cost to deliver the most superior experience to our customers. This is an art,” He said.

READ MORE: Drive I/O: Key takeaways from Auto Shanghai 2021

Context: Chinese young EV makers are feeling the heat as local tech giants strive for self-driving leadership with the launch of their advanced AV solutions during this year’s Auto Shanghai last month.

  • Huawei on Apr 17 announced to spend a whopping $1 billion in AV this year as the company, along with its auto partner BAIC, is pushing to deliver urban self-driving functionality first to customers from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen by year-end.
  • Chinese search engine Baidu during the show said its ADAS solution for urban self-driving called Autonomous Navigation Pilot (ANP) will be available on vehicles launched by partners first in 20 cities by year-end and then over 100 cities by 2023.

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