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China’s XPeng and future of electric vehicles, robots and flying cars

GUANGZHOU, China — For the foreseeable future, Chinese electric car start-up XPeng is trying to boost its sales in the world’s largest auto market.

But the Guangzhou, China-based company is also exploring areas including robotics and flying cars, which could play a role in its longer-term goals.

In an interview with CNBC that aired Thursday, He Xiaopeng, the founder and CEO of XPeng, discussed the ongoing chip shortage hitting the auto industry and why the Chinese Tesla rival is investing in robotics and flying modes of transport.

Earlier this year, XPeng showed off a second prototype of a flying passenger car which it says has been in development for eight years. And on Tuesday, it took the wraps off a four-legged “robotic unicorn,” as it pushes into new areas of business.

“With the development of technology, the form of mobility will evolve from wheels to wings, propellers, 4 legs or 2 feet,” He said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language comments. “Technology should help people have better and happier lives. This has always been my goal.”

The XPeng founder predicts that all automakers will become both car makers and robotics companies, a process He says could take 10 to 30 years. XPeng is looking at robots as a transportation tool “in a low-speed and random environment.”

“As it gets better and smarter in the long run, it could help us with some simple repetitive tasks. As the transportation tool becomes more and more intelligent, it could help us take on some tasks. This is how we envision it,” he said.

XPeng’s competitor Tesla is also investing in robotics. Last month, CEO Elon Musk said the company will build a humanoid robot called Tesla Bot. Other companies have also shown off robots, including Boston Dynamics and Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi.

Flying cars

The X2, XPeng’s second flying car prototype and first that’s able to carry a passenger, was unveiled in July.

Founder He said the company is building a research and development team that will “have a few hundred people.”

“We want to introduce a flying car that can take off or land vertically, a low-to mid-altitude flying car.”

Chip shortage, new products

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