A topic reading “Why Tesla [China] refused job applications from former employees of XPeng Motors” on Chinese Quora-like Q&A platform Zhihu recently triggered heated online discussion. The initiator of the question claimed to have always liked Tesla, but was told that the firm would not accept job seekers that had previously worked for XPeng.
Many people who responded to the question claim to have undergone similar experiences. One said that after getting a job offer from XPeng, he attended an interview with Tesla for a position related to vehicle delivery. In order to increase his chances, he casually mentioned his XPeng offer, only to be told directly that he had failed the interview. Another web user said that a friend joined the new energy automobile industry after graduation, then joined XPeng. However, in September this year, XPeng reduced the worker’s salary, putting them on probation without any commission. So, they found another way out and turned to Tesla. However, the resume failed to pass preliminary screening.
In the answers section of the Zhihu post, a web user who claimed to be a former salesman of Tesla China confirmed that former employees of XPeng would not be accepted by the firm, while employees of other car brands such as NIO and Zeekr could be accepted.
According to Chinese media outlet Daoge Shuoche Z, Tesla’s move may be related to the firm’s lawsuit against Guangzhi Cao, a former Tesla engineer and former Head of Perception at XPeng Motors, in 2019.
On January 3, 2019, Cao left Tesla’s Autopilot as an engineer and joined XPeng Motors. In March of the same year, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to its autopilot system.
Tesla sued Cao for uploading a copy of the Tesla Autopilot source code to his personal iCloud account and personal electronic device at the end of 2018, which contained about 300,000 code files, and alleged that Cao had shared the data with XPeng. Tesla believes that Cao and XPeng have no legal right to use the related technologies of its autopilot system, which is the result of Tesla’s own investment in R&D for more than five years and several hundred million dollars and team efforts.
Finally, the two sides reached a settlement agreement, and Cao apologized to Tesla for his actions and settled all claims in the lawsuit.
Cao’s defense lawyer said in a statement that he apologized for the unnecessary harm caused to XPeng due to Tesla’s lawsuit. Later, Pengcheng Li, the head of public relations of XPeng Motors, posted on his personal social media, “It is more like a commercial farce that an accusation without any evidence ends in this way.”
It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time that XPeng has been involved in similar disputes. In July 2018, Xiaolang Zhang, who had joined the firm just two months previously, was sued by his former employer, Apple, and arrested by the FBI for “stealing trade secrets.” Apple said the man tried to flee the US after downloading a confidential business document related to automated driving cars to a personal laptop.
Immediately afterwards, XPeng issued a statement affirming that Zhang’s behavior had nothing to do with the company. After learning that the governmental departments in the US had launched an investigation into Zhang, XPeng sealed his computer and office supplies according to regulations, and stated it would cooperate with the investigation. On August 22 this year (2022), it was reported that Zhang pleaded guilty in a federal court in San Jose, USA.