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Chinese start-up becomes first to use Tesla technology

Xiaopeng XPeng Beta concept

Xiaopeng Motors is using Tesla technology for its SUV Xpeng Beta, thanks to the company’s open source patents

Back in 2014, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk announced that for “the advancement of electric vehicle technology” all Tesla patents would be open sourced:

“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

The Chinese EV startupfocused on enticing customers with “new technologies, new designs and new business models”, appear to be one of the first to adapt Tesla’s open sourced patents to do so.

However, one condition of using Tesla’s patents – its so-called “good faith” clause – would be that the company would be unable to sue Tesla for the use of its own patents. The reciprocal arrangement would appear to allow Tesla to use another company’s patents (even if they not “open-sourced”) and protect Tesla from being sued for infringement, based on the agreement.

Although Musk has previously said that he believed a number of businesses were now using Tesla’s patents, no companies were named or confirmed as having done so.

This is until the arrival of Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese EV start up co-founded by He Xiaopeng only three years ago. The company has become the first to openly reference Tesla’s open source patents and technology when describing the motivation behind beginning its venture.

The SUV Xpeng Beta, the first batch of which is expected to launch in the Chinese market during Q4 2017, will have similar range and autonomous driving capabilities as Tesla’s Model 3, although details on these capabilities are scarce.

What we do know is that the model uses Samsung-made 18650 cells and can purportedly travel 300km per charge, not too far off the Model 3’s single-charge range of 350km.

It is unclear which patents Xiaopeng, which recently hired Tesla’s former machine learning lead to manage its autonomous driving efforts, has adopted in its upcoming EV release. However, the similarities in the user interface and central touchscreen system alone are glaringly obvious.

Xpeng Beta display
Xpeng Beta display

Xiaopeng Motors has also stated that its first EV will hit the market at a considerably cheaper price than Tesla’s competing model. It is reported that the XPeng SUV will be priced at around $30,000, significantly lower than the expected $45,000 average spend on a Tesla Model 3.

However, the price for the model, expected to reach China in 2018, could drop given that Tesla recent deal to build a manufacturing site in Shanghai’s free trade zone – which could significantly lower local production costs.

Although details on which patents have been used are unknown, it will be interesting to see how the startup automaker utilises Tesla’s technologies to develop its own models – and how the EV fares if and when it reaches market.


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