The XPeng P7 is the car that changes everything.
To be clear, the XPeng P7 isn’t a world beater in terms of its design, performance, or powertrain technology. It’s merely an accomplished EV; quick and smooth, quiet and comfortable, handsome in the Tesla Model S fashion but with a more luxurious interior and similar levels of tech.
It would be right at home on any driveway in Australia right now, with no excuses needed.
And this is why the XPeng P7 is a game changer. The P7, which made its debut at the 2019 Shanghai Show, is only the second-ever car from a carmaker that’s only been in existence eight years.
Eight years. In the late 1950s, eight years after Toyota restarted manufacturing in the aftermath of World War II, its Toyopet Crown compared so poorly with American and European vehicles available at the time, the company was forced to suspend exports of the car to the U.S.
Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1967, but it wasn’t until 1986, with the launch of the front-drive Excel, that it dared enter the Australian market. Even then, the Excel’s key selling point was its low price. No-one considered its product attributes to be on par with those of similar hatchbacks from Toyota and Mazda, Honda and Ford.
The XPeng P7 is a graphic example of the new reality of the global car industry in the EV age.
In the past, as Toyota and Hyundai and others discovered, the cost and complexities of developing and optimising internal combustion engines and suitable transmissions meant newcomers faced huge challenges in terms of creating vehicles that matched those from established manufacturers in terms of performance, dynamics, efficiency, refinement, and quality.
EV powertrains remove a big chunk of that complexity from the vehicle development process. They are inherently smooth and quiet, with fewer moving parts to wear or break. There are no difficult calibration issues in terms of getting an e-motor to meet emissions and fuel economy standards, or any need to make it work with a complicated transmission.
Making a vehicle that’s instantly competitive with mainstream offerings from established OEMs is therefore a lot easier than it used to be.
The XPeng P7 proves the point.
The P7 is built on a bespoke EV platform that was co-developed with Porsche. It’s a conventional skateboard design, with multi-link suspension front and rear and an 80kWh battery between the axles. Behind the standard 19-inch alloy wheels, which are shod with 245/45 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, are Brembo brakes.
The P7 is 142mm shorter overall than a Tesla Model S, and 91mm narrower, but rolls on a 41mm longer wheelbase. The entry-level P7 RWD Long Range is powered by a single rear-mounted e-motor that develops 196kW and 390Nm of torque. The P7 4WD High Performance packs a total system output of 316kW and 655Nm, courtesy of a 120kW e-motor that drives the front wheels.
Like the Tesla, it’s relatively light for an EV – XPeng claims the single motor RWD Long Range weighs 1978kg, while the dual motor 4WD High Performance is claimed to tip the scales at 2097kg. That’s almost 440kg less than a dual-motor Model S.
The 80kWh battery will accept up to 90kW on a DC fast charge, which allows it to go from five percent charge to 80 percent change in about 51min.
XPeng claims a range of up to 530km on the WLTP test cycle for the RWD Long Range, and a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 6.9 seconds. The 4WD High Performance has a claimed range of up to 470km and will zing from 0 to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Neither version of the P7 threatens the Tesla Model S in terms of outright range or performance. But it would be a mistake for Tesla to dismiss it simply because of that. Just as it would be a mistake for anyone in the car industry to ignore XPeng.
Based in Guangzhou, China, XPeng was founded 2014 by former GAC Group execs Heng Xia and Tao He. (GAC Group produces vehicles in joint ventures with Toyota, Honda, Jeep, and Mitsubishi. It also manufactures and sells vehicles in China under the Trumpchi, Aion, and Hycan brands.)
The other founding partner, and angel investor, was Xiaopeng He, founder of Chinese mobile browser company UCWeb, which was bought by the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group in June 2014. He reportedly made billions from the deal but resigned from the Alibaba board in August 2017 to become full-time chairman of XPeng.
XPeng is a contraction of his name.
XPeng’s first vehicle, the G3 compact SUV, was launched in Las Vegas at CES in December 2018, and a facelifted version, the G3i, is now on sale in Norway. The company’s third model, the P5, a roomy family sedan built on an extended wheelbase version of the G3’s platform, was unveiled in September 2021.
X-Peng’s fourth model will be the G9, a larger SUV built on the P7 platform that will boast an 800V electrical architecture allowing ultra-fast charging. The G9 will go on sale in China in the third quarter of this year, and while there are no firm plans yet, X-Peng insiders hint the G9 may be the model chosen to launch the brand in the U.S.
It took Tesla 17 years to get four cars into production and on sale. By the end of this year XPeng will have equalled that achievement in less than half the time. But that’s not the only reason the car industry’s arch-disrupter needs to start looking over its shoulder at this fast-moving Chinese rival.
Piotr Chmielewski, a Polish software engineer who is XPeng’s Head of EV Charging in Europe, says the company is the only carmaker other than Tesla to use an end-to-end software architecture.
The architecture is used on all XPeng models, and Chmielewski, who points out Xiaopeng He made his fortune in the software business, believes this software stack will give the company’s products a competitive advantage in the long term.
The XPeng operating system, dubbed Xmart OS and initially Android based but now highly evolved and unique, controls driver assistance systems as well as connectivity functions and infotainment systems, and nascent AI capabilities, including a ‘Hey XPeng’ voice activation function and a smart navigation system. It allows a wide range of over-the-air updates and remote vehicle diagnostics.
That’s Tesla-level stuff. And although some of the P7’s standard XPilot functions, most notably the lane keep assist, don’t feel quite as well resolved in terms of their operation as Tesla’s, Chmielewski makes the point that’s basically just an issue of tuning the software, not designing new hardware.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Toyota or Tesla, or any of the established carmakers, the message sent by the XPeng P7 – and the other XPeng models – is clear, and worrying: Your next big threat could be an EV manufacturer no-one’s heard of, making vehicles that are competitive with yours, right out of the box.