A case over Apple’s governing trade secrets that began in 2018 has ended. Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple employee, pleaded guilty on Monday for stealing confidential information from Apple.
In July 2018, a federal grand jury in San Jose accused Jan to receive a 25-page document containing detailed drawings of a circuit board designed to be used in Apple’s autonomous vehicle.
In April of that year, Zhang told Apple that he was resigning to be closer to his ailing mother in China. Apple later learned that the former employee had gone on to work for Xpeng, an electric vehicle start-up in China. On the day Zhang was scheduled to return to China, federal agents intercepted and arrested the engineer at San Jose International Airport.
Xpeng distanced itself from the case. In his official Weibo post on Tuesday, the publicly traded electric car maker said it had nothing to do with Zhang’s case, did not know any details of the case, was not involved in the investigation by US judicial authorities and had no related dispute with Apple.
“Xpeng is a leading player in advanced driver assistance systems in China and will continue to develop comprehensive solutions,” the automaker said.
Other former Xpeng staff have also been embroiled in litigation with the US tech giant. In 2019, Tesla alleged that its former employee Cao Guangji stole patented Autopilot technology before he took a job at Xpeng, and Elon Musk himself has publicly hinted for its Chinese rival. The case was dismissed in 2021.
There are reasons for Xpeng’s Western rivals to worry about where it is going. Like its foreign competitors, Xpeng is cultivating autonomous driving ambitions. The Guangzhou-based company is busy testing its Xpilot ADAS system, a counterpart to Tesla’s FSD, and wants to mass-produce the solution at an affordable price.
Unlike Tesla, Xpeng has bet on lidars, some of which are supplied by Livox affiliated with DJI, to drive their vehicles. The latest version of Xpilot claims being able to navigate complex city roads and park in what the company labels as Level 2.5 driving.
Some of this technology may soon be available to consumers overseas. Last year, Xpeng quietly started shipping in Norway, also the first stop in Chinese rival Nio’s overseas expansion. In February, the company announced plans to enter Sweden and the Netherlands through both official retail stores and third-party distribution networks.