Xpeng’s head of autonomous driving quits, rumored to join Nvidia


Xpeng, a prominent Chinese electric vehicle maker and a competitor to Tesla, has announced the resignation of its vice president of autonomous driving, Xinzhou Wu, over personal and family reasons.

Wu, formerly a senior director of engineering at Qualcomm where he spent over a decade, was effectively the head of Xpeng’s autonomous driving business and played a pivotal role in helping Xpeng gain an edge over its EV rivals in the intelligent driving race.

The NYSE-listed EV upstart is recognized for its in-house, full-stack development team responsible for creating the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) Xpeng Navigation Guided Pilot (XNPG), which is considered a counterpart to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) system.

In March, Xpeng upgraded its city navigation system for customers in first-tier cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai. In a few months, the system’s mileage penetration rate had exceeded 60%, Xpeng revealed on a recent earnings call. Moreover, the company aims to reduce the number of manual takeovers per 1,000 kilometers when using its highway navigation to one or fewer by the end of 2023.

Tesla hasn’t made FSD available in China yet and recently denied rumors that it would introduce the option in Shanghai soon. Even if it had plans to do so, it would take the American giant at least 12 months to localize the system for China’s complex road conditions, Wu said in a previous interview.

Wu hasn’t announced his next career move after five years with Xpeng, though widespread rumors suggest he’s taking up a senior position in Nvidia’s autonomous driving division. A Weibo post by He Xiaopeng, CEO and founder of Xpeng, hints at this possibility, as he expressed pride in Wu soon becoming a top-level manager at a globally renowned company with continued collaborations on chip technology with Xpeng.

Indeed, Xpeng has had a longstanding chip partnership with Nvidia, which itself has made big strides into the autonomous vehicle space with its smart driving platform Drive and state-of-the-art auto chips.

Wu is passing the torch to Liyun Li, currently senior director of autonomous driving at the firm. According to He, this transition has been in the works for nearly a year and he’s confident that it will play out “smoothly”.

The separation appears to be amicable, as evidenced by Wu reciprocating He’s sentiment with a warm message on Weibo. “I believe Xpeng’s solid team and system will propel forward the development of ADAS until the era of driverless cars arrives.”

The resignation of Wu, which is seen as a huge talent loss for Xpeng, came just a week after Xpeng announced a promising investment from Volkswagen that will see the pair co-develop electric vehicle models for the Chinese market.

While Wu’s resignation may not have an immediate impact on Xpeng’s autonomous driving path, it does mark the end of an era at the firm. Wu belongs to a group of AI experts who returned from Silicon Valley to work at emerging Chinese tech companies while managing R&D teams in the U.S. With escalating tensions between the two global powers, numerous Chinese tech giants have downsized their U.S. operations.

Xpeng turned many heads in the EV industry early this year after appointing Wang Fengying, a veteran with 20 years of experience at Chinese budget pick-up truck and SUV manufacturer Great Wall Motor, as president. To many’s surprise, Wang will be overseeing product planning at the young firm that prides itself on R&D.

As Wu remarked in his farewell message, “Five years ago, I crossed the ocean to join Xpeng, landing on the right platform at the right time. I found myself stepping into a race that sent the wind and clouds and set the spirits ablaze.”

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