Xpeng Motors will launch a pilot program for autonomous ride-hailing services in China in the second half of next year, Xpeng’s executives said at an annual tech day event on Oct. 24. The program is part of the company’s latest efforts to offer full-scenario autonomous driving capabilities by the middle of 2023. 

Why it matters: Xpeng expects the move to accelerate the development of its advanced assisted driving technology for mass-produced vehicle models. The company claims its upcoming advanced assisted driving technology will cover most traffic conditions. 

Details: Xpeng will operate a fleet of vehicles equipped with its advanced assisted driving software in Chinese urban environments in the second half of 2022, Wu Xinzhou, vice president of autonomous driving in Xpeng, told reporters during a media interview on Tuesday.

  • Xpeng hopes to use the pilot scheme to study so-called “corner cases,” meaning traffic scenarios that do not happen very often and find possible solutions, according to comments made by Chief Executive He Xiaopeng at the Oct. 24 event. 
  • Full details of the project are yet to be announced, but Wu said that the company will deploy its basic mass-produced vehicles rather than “retrofit vehicles with expensive sensors and semiconductors.” 
  • “Xpeng will become the first carmaker in China that explores mobility solutions enabled by autonomous driving,” He said, adding that Xpeng has intended to focus on developing consumer cars with autonomous driving capabilities rather than become a mobility service company.
  • On Oct. 24, the company announced plans to launch Xpilot 4.0, Xpeng’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), in the first half of 2023. Xpeng said the system will offer drivers unlimited, full-scenario driving capabilities.
  • The Xpilot 4.0 will go beyond the current 3.0 version, which handles only Chinese highways and some expressway-style urban streets. It will also be superior to the upcoming 3.5 version, which features automated driving capabilities on urban roads, scheduled for release by next June.

Context: Compared to robotaxi companies, electric vehicle makers such as Xpeng have chosen different approaches in their quest to achieve fully autonomous driving technology. EV makers are gradually working their technology up from assistant driving to semi-autonomous driving, hoping to arrive at fully autonomous driving.

  • In contrast, robotaxi companies such as Waymo believe there is no clear path from semi-autonomy to full autonomy. They chose to start their work at a high driving automation level. Baidu, Pony.ai, and WeRide are the early robotaxi players in China.
  • Waymo has openly dismissed EV maker’s step-by-step approach. “It is a misconception that you can just keep developing a driver assistance system until one day you can magically leap to a fully autonomous driving system,” Bloomberg reported in January citing former Waymo CEO John Krafcik. A Waymo’s testing vehicle reportedly costs at least $130,000 in sensors and computers, according to Krafcik.
  • Xpeng seems to disagree with robotaxi’s dismissal. “We will be ready to have a similar performance to any robotaxi company in China,” Wu told TechNode on Tuesday. “[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production, and their value will become much less than today’s,” Wu told TechCrunch in an interview in April.

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