Leading Chinese smart electric vehicle company XPeng has launched an autonomous driving expedition with its fleet of XPeng P7s, covering a total distance of 3,675 km across six provinces and 10 cities in China, starting from Guangzhou, to Shantou, Quanzhou, Wenzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao, Jinan and finishing off in Beijing.
Completing the journey last week, XPeng recorded the longest autonomous driving expedition by mass-produced vehicles in China, showcasing the capability of its advanced Navigation Guided Pilot (NGP), a full-stack autonomous driving solution. Since the NGP’s launch on January 26th, over one million km has been driven by XPeng P7 users in China alone.
To find out more, Auto Futures speaks to XPeng’s Vice President of Autonomous Driving, Mr. Xinzhou Wu, who explains the idea behind the challenge and shares some of the main findings that have been uncovered during the trial. Most importantly, he also discusses the significance of the challenge, which he hopes will propel both XPeng and the wider autonomous industry into new markets and opportunities.
“We wanted to demonstrate to the world our technical capabilities and set a record for the longest navigation-assisted autonomous vehicle drive on China’s highways,” he explains. “The expedition has demonstrated that P7 drivers can rely on NGP for the majority of their highway driving. During the drive, the frequency of human driver intervention was as low as 0.65 times per 100 kilometers and under one time per 100 kilometers in five out of the six days.”
NGP, which forms the basis of XPeng’s autonomous driving system, XPILOT 3.0, conducts automatic navigation assisted driving from A to B based on the navigation route set by the driver. In relation to other self-driving technology, it boasts a much higher execution rate during day-to-day driving, with the success for lane changing and overtaking around 86.05% to 97.91% and highway ramp entering and existing success rate from 83.76% to 96.93%. In addition to this, the tunnel pass-through success rate achieved 100%, which is usually a common problem for most self-driving systems on the market today.
The system is able to understand China’s complex road conditions and scenarios, including navigating tunnels with GPS, recognising specific road signs, traffic cones and construction sites. Ultimately, the trial has demonstrated the system’s effectiveness when the car encounters these scenarios.
The Smart EV Company
XPeng refers to itself as a Smart EV company, taking a two-pronged approach to electrification and self-driving technology. WU believes that it is key that the brand does not prioritise one without the other, developing all of its autonomous driving technology and in-car intelligent operating systems in-house, as well as the core vehicle systems such as powertrain and the electronic architecture.
“This demonstrates why we refer to XPeng as a ‘Smart EV’ company, where ‘smart’ technology is just as important to us as ‘EV’ technology. Our mission is to drive this ‘Smart EV’ transformation with technology and data, taking a key role in the mobility experience of the future,” he says.
This positions XPengs current and future offerings as a viable answer to the new era of transport, with the most advanced systems capable of driving, protecting and entertaining passengers on their journey. Above all, this level of efficiency gives confidence to the public, especially in the field of automation, proving that these vehicles on sale today are safe and can be driven thousands of highway kilometers safely with minimal driver intervention.
“Ultimately, our P7 drivers can intervene at any time in their vehicles, but the technology is helping them alleviate some of the stresses of driving,” continues Wu. “We strive to provide our customers with a safer driving experience by using cutting edge technologies in the mass-produces models, not as a concept. A long-distance drive like this demonstrates quite clearly what the current tech is capable of.”
Exploring New Markets
The challenge illustrates Xpeng as a leader in the global autonomous vehicle sector, which will help the company propel its business beyond the Asian market, as it looks to explore the US and Europe in the near future.
However, the quality of support, whether that is from the government or the private sector, is lacking in comparison to countries like China. This makes it difficult for a company like XPeng to recreate the same success until the market picks up further. Despite this, both Europe and the US are accelerating their EV sectors, with more infrastructure being built at a much higher rate than before. There is still some way to go, but once we see more support and consumer demand, there will be an extremely exciting market for XPeng to penetrate and compete with some of the largest automakers in the world.
“There are several countries outside of China that appeal to us because of their current uptake of EVs and the government incentives and policies, high EV awareness, and more advanced EV infrastructure. The most attractive markets will of course be top priorities for us,” says Wu.
“But it is important to stress that we are taking a long-term view and a country-specific approach in terms of developing a business model based on local conditions. Looking at autonomous driving capability specifically, the mapping infrastructure in Europe and North America isn’t of the same quality as we currently find in China, meaning we will need to localise the relevant components to offer the vehicle’s full potential. We are making good progress on that.”
Following the success of the driving trial, Wu and his team will continue to develop and test smart, emission-free cars for a growing number of people interested in new technology. Later in 2021 XPeng aims to introduce a smaller family-sized sedan, which will be its third smart electric model after the G3 and P7.
“In the second quarter of 2021, we will unveil and begin selling our third mass-produced vehicle model. This brand-new design will be the first mass-produced smart electric vehicle equipped with lidar and will support our XPILOT 3.5,” he says.
“Leveraging our visual-based perception capability complemented by lidar, we plan to roll out XPILOT 3.5 which will support NGP on major urban roads. In addition, it will feature an innovative, third-generation smart cockpit, connecting the vehicle to everyday life in an even closer way. Mass delivery of this new model will start in the fourth quarter of this year.”
XPeng also plans to release multiple Over-the-Air updates of XPILOT 3.0 in 2021. This will include memory parking and a further improved version of the NPG to enhance the safety, functionality and performance of vehicles. Finally, it will introduce XPILOT 4.0, built on a next-generation autonomous driving hardware platform to be deployed on its fourth model, which will be launched in 2022.
With so much happening, this is yet another reason to continue monitoring XPeng, a sleeping giant on the world stage ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Tesla.