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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng shows off new flying vehicle 

Electric vehicle start-up Xpeng unveiled its first generation prototype for a flying vehicle at the Beijing Auto Show on Sept. 26, 2020.

Evelyn Cheng

BEIJING — Alibaba-backed Xpeng is putting money into flying car technology as part of the company’s long-term strategy. 

The electric automaker revealed Saturday at the Beijing Auto Show the first in a series of electric flying vehicles the start-up said it is developing.

With eight propellers and a capsule-like frame, the vehicle resembles a human-carrying drone more than a flying car. The prototype was developed by Xpeng Heitech, a technology unit majority-owned by Xpeng and CEO He Xiaopeng.

Xpeng said in a release that the unit is part of the company’s long term research and development, and the core businesses and development strategy remain unchanged. The company foresees benefits from the research in areas such as precision and mapping technologies. 

The flying vehicle can hold up to two passengers and is designed for low altitudes of 5 meters to 25 meters (16.4 feet to 82 feet), according to Xpeng. The project is in a concept phase, and the company said it will evaluate prospects of the space before proceeding with any substantial investment.

“This is a long-range R&D exploration for us to really think about mobility in a greater context,” Brian Gu, vice chairman and president of Xpeng, told CNBC in an interview on the sidelines of the Beijing Auto Show on Saturday.

“We think in the future not only electric vehicles will have the smart mobility autonomous driving features, but with other technology, enable other devices that can create a multi-dimensional ecosystem, that will be very exciting,” Gu said. “That’s why we are investing in that area, and doing some exploration.”

Regulation has been a major hurdle for the development of human-carrying drones and self-driving cars.

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