(Yicai Global) July 11 -- A former Apple engineer has been arrested on charges of stealing self-driving car trade secrets with the intention of handing them to auto startup Xiaopeng Motors. The Chinese firm denied involvement and said it is cooperating with investigators.
Zhang Xiaolang was caught just before boarding a flight to China from San Jose airport on July 7, state-backed The Paper reported. The hardware engineer had quit Apple in April to start working for Xiaopeng, but returned to download software to his wife’s laptop before heading to China.
The criminal complaint said Zhang admitted the crime. He could face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of USD250,000.
Xiaopeng said it knew nothing about the matter before hearing the news. The Guangzhou-based company said it will cooperate in every way with the investigation. Xiaopeng strictly adheres to Chinese and US laws, attaches great importance to intellectual property protection, and always regards legal compliance as a basic norm for all employees, it said.
Zhang’s work at Apple involved developing software and hardware for automatic driving vehicles, as well as designing and testing circuit boards and analyzing sensor data. He is accused of downloading engineering schematics, as well as technical manuals and reports.
Apple, best known as the maker of iPhones and MacBooks, has not disclosed how it plans to release its driverless vehicle technology to consumers, but it has about 5,000 employees working on the project.
The Cupertino-based company’s shares took the news in stride today, trading little changed at USD190.35 as of 6.48 p.m. Beijing time.
Founded in 2014, Xiaopeng Motors unveiled its first model, the G3 sport utility vehicle, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The firm has the financial backing of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, which is believed to hold at least a 10 percent stake after leading a funding round worth USD350 million also in January. Pre-sales of the G3 started in China in April.
Editor: Emmi Laine