(Bloomberg) – More than a year after billionaire president of Xpeng Motors called Tesla Inc.’s allegations “doubtful” that an engineer stole the secrets of autopilot before embarking on the Chinese startup, questions from Elon Musk’s society keep coming.
As Tesla tries to gather evidence in his lawsuit describing the engineer as a traitor, he asks a judge to force the Chinese sosla electric car manufacturer in Guangzhou to disclose its source code for autonomous driving, to return images of ‘computer hard drives and even make an employee available for an interview.
Tesla is also requesting information from a former Apple employee indicted in 2018 for trying to take secrets for a new job with Xpeng. Tesla says it is significant that the two engineers looked for work at Xpeng around the same time and used the same “hard to find” method – Apple Airdrop – to recover sensitive files from their American employers.
Xpeng, who is not an accused in the lawsuit, and the two engineers all denied the wrongdoing. Xpeng and the former Apple engineer resist Tesla’s requests for more information, calling them improper intrusions into court records.
“Tesla’s latest requests have crossed the finish line, seeking to search our intellectual property on Tesla’s terms – and spoiling us along the way with false statements and innuendos,” said an arm spokesperson. Xpeng’s American research firm, XMotors, in a statement. Tesla’s attempt to link the two Chinese engineers is “peddling speculation and stereotypes,” the statement said.
Tesla subpoena hearings are scheduled for May in federal court in San Francisco.
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Xpeng, which is supported by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., is one of the startups in China competing with Tesla on the development of autonomous driving in the most populous country in the world. Last year, Tesla opened a multi-billion dollar factory near Shanghai – its first outside the United States – and plans to open a design and engineering center in the country.
Tesla says at least five of its former employees have gone to Xpeng, whose full name is Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co. Ltd., one of whom was hired in 2017 by the startup as vice president for autonomous driving and oversaw autonomous research and driving. development team until 2018 and 2019. When Xpeng president He Xiaopeng reacted to Tesla’s trial in March 2019, he said that Xpeng and Tesla are innovators and that the “talent flow” between companies is normal.
Tesla argues that the parallels between the defection of its engineer and that of Apple are sufficiently narrow for it to have the right to explain if they worked with the same recruiters at Xpeng, met the same executives of the Chinese company and received similar compensation.
“The greater the similarity between the two cases, the less likely it is that these similarities can be dismissed as mere coincidence, and the more they are the result of planning and coordination,” Tesla said in the brief.
But at least part of the story presented by Tesla raises questions about how he portrays the evidence.
Tesla said its former employee, Guangzhi Cao, was careful in July 2018 when the news announced that former Apple engineer Zhang Xiaolang had been arrested at San Jose, California airport, while he was about to embark on a one-way flight to China. . In a file filed on April 17, Tesla quotes a text from Cao to a friend about the arrest that Xpeng and Zhang must have “agreed the price before obtaining the documents.”
However, according to a Cao text journal which was filed as an exhibit, it was the friend who initiated the conversation on the arrest and who sent the cited text.
Cao wrote in a text that the arrest of the engineer Apple “made a bad impression on all Chinese people” and in another “happy not to have gone to Xiaopeng, so risky”, according to the newspaper.
Tesla did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Cao admitted that he downloaded some of Tesla’s source code to his iCloud account and personal devices, but said he deleted these files before leaving the company and says he did not commit any fault, according to court documents. Cao’s lawyer could not be immediately contacted for comment.
Zhang, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that could send him to prison if convicted, says forcing him to hand over the documents Tesla is looking for would violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination. A lawyer for Zhang declined to comment.
Xpeng said in a file that it had already assisted Tesla voluntarily and in response to a subpoena served on XMotors, including providing a forensic image of Cao’s laptop computer and more than 12,000 documents. The automaker’s latest request for information does not change the fact that there is no evidence that Tesla trade secrets have been passed on to Xpeng, the company said.
“Tesla’s excessive reach and distortions confirm that this is just a fishing expedition intended to intimidate and confuse a young competitor,” said XMotors spokesperson.
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