This is the Xiaopeng Motors Beta, an all-electric SUV concept designed by a company you’ve never heard of. Created in 2014 by former Guangzhou Automobile’s new energy control center chief, Xia Heng, the company is billing itself as a provider of Internet cars for the youth generation and aims to achieve small-scale production by late 2017.
Based on a Lexus NX300h platform — a car used in initial testing before designers completed the bodywork (note the front overhang) — and roughly the same size, the all-electric Xiaopeng Beta concept takes a lot of cues from Tesla’s Model X, especially the front end design. While that’s not a bad thing, it’s not entirely original either.
The treatment of the bodyside is in line with current design trends, consisting of a single undercut feature line running the length of the vehicle demarcating the shoulder, while the curved door surface is underscored by a prominent lightcatcher element to detract from the car’s overall height — further emphasized by the car’s black roof.
Hexagonal and pixelated motifs abound — from front to rear and top to bottom, spilling into the interior as well. Like the Tata Ultra Electric Bus Concept, the graphic serves to reinforce the car’s electric powertrain.
The rear end design takes cues from Land Rover as well as China’s own successful Haval brand, Great Wall Motors’ luxury SUV offshoot led by former BMW designer Pierre LeClercq.
The Xiaopeng Motors Beta concept is powered by a liquid-cooled Panasonic battery pack offering a claimed 300km range. The Beta’s battery will be available in two power variations and the car will be offered in two- and four-wheel-drive configurations.
When unveiled last month, the Beta concept was shown in two colors: silver and white. The white model, devoid of Xiaopeng’s logo at the front, clearly denotes the designers’ inspiration. Tesla’s been doing quite well in China, with well-heeled customers forking over a premium to get their hands on one. It’s obvious that Tesla’s success is what Xiaoping’s Shanghai-based design team — led by design director Zhang Lihua — were tasked to emulate.
This inspiration is even clearer when looking at the interior of the Xiaopeng Motors Beta concept and the embedded technology within.
Developed in collaboration with Interaction design firm Alte Design, the Xiaopeng Motors Beta features a 12.3-inch 1440X540 resolution LCD gauge cluster, which displays diverse function directly ahead of the driver. This all-digital layout can be customized to preference.
The large, 15.6-inch center stack touchscreen also takes a page directly out of the Tesla codebook, though it appears freestanding rather than integrated into the IP. With a 1080P HD resolution, the eight-core platform operates most of the car’s functions and can be operated via voice control.
Taking yet more inspiration from established Western premium carmakers, the Xiaopeng Motors Beta can follow the vehicle in front of it autonomously, which is especially useful in low-speed stop-and-go driving. The vehicle can also park itself, leaving customers the option to drive directly to their destination without having to circle around to look for a spot. When the user’s ready to get back on the road, they summon the car directly from a smartphone app, just like Model X customers can.
While this technology is nothing groundbreaking or new, it does signal an important shift towards manufacturers making the vehicle more accessible, from a convenience standpoint. It also shows the increasing importance being placed on forward-looking technologies and autonomous drive systems in particular.
The app can also act as a remote control device, allowing users to set navigation coordinates and turn on the air-conditioning before entering the vehicle.
Speaking of technology, Xiaopeng’s concept goes one step further by offering a face recognition system inside the car. Via a camera located just above the rear view mirror, the system scans the driver’s face and adjusts the seat position, climate control and radio station to a specific setting. While there’s no word on whether this system is reactive to the user’s mood, it’s an advancement on previous smart keys and preset buttons.
Another tech feature is the HD camera on the roof of the car, through which users can record video or take pictures while on the move. Though it could likely be a cool feature, these rooftop-mounted cameras offer no safety or usability benefit whatsoever. They’re simply a gimmick aimed at young users who wish to capture and share their ‘wonderful memories’. Hopefully they only work when the car is in autonomous mode.
Xia Heng says the Beta concept exterior and interior designs as well as the powertrain, battery pack and system operating experience are is 90 percent production ready. His goal is to begin building the first Xiaopeng cars as soon next year and make the Beta available by 2018. The company is currently taking a close look at Tesla’s Internet sales model and aiming to offer vehicles through a long-term lease.
With the number of Chinese car companies battling it out in a highly competitive electric vehicle segment and the recent government crackdown on 90 percent of the emerging players, most will likely never make it out of the starting block. Xiaopeng Motors will need more than a single concept with a visually appealing and technology led interior if the company wants any chance at success.
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