More than a year after the billionaire chairman of Xpeng Motors labeled as “questionable” Tesla Inc.’s allegations that an engineer stole Autopilot secrets before bolting to the Chinese startup, the questions from Elon Musk’s company keep coming.
As Tesla tries to amass proof in its lawsuit portraying the engineer as a traitor, it’s asking a judge to force the Guangzhou, China-based maker of Tesla look-alike electric cars to disclose its autonomous-driving source code, turn over images of computer hard drives and even make an employee available for an interview.
Tesla is also demanding information from an ex-Apple employee criminally charged in 2018 with trying to take secrets for a new job with Xpeng. Tesla claims it’s significant that both engineerssought jobs with Xpeng around the same time and allegedly used the same “difficult-to-trace” method — Apple Airdrop — to take sensitive files from their American employers.
Xpeng, which isn’t a defendant in the suit, and the two engineers all have denied wrongdoing. Xpeng and the former Apple engineer are resisting Tesla’s demands for more information, calling them improper intrusions in court filings.
“Tesla’s latest demands crossed the line, seeking to rummage through our IP on Tesla’s terms — and smearing us along the way with misrepresentations and innuendo,” a spokesperson for Xpeng’s U.S. research arm, XMotors, said in a statement. Tesla’s attempt to tie the two Chinese engineers together is “peddling speculation and stereotypes,” according to the statement.
Hearings on Tesla’s subpoenas are set for May in San Francisco federal court.