Xiaolang Zhang pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from Apple, which worked on a self-driving car project from 2015 to 2018 (via CNBC). When he left his job at Apple, he told his manager that he would work for Guangzhou Xiaopeng Automobile Technology, his EV startup in China, also known as Xpeng.
See here for details. An investigation found that Apple stored about 24 GB of “extremely questionable” data on his wife’s laptop with his AirDrop and took circuit boards and servers from the company’s autonomous vehicle lab. discovered.
The terms of Zhang’s plea bargain have not been made public, but according to court documents (pdf) uploaded by CNBC, Zhang pleaded guilty to theft of the only trade secret listed in the indictment. A meeting to determine his sentencing is scheduled for November 14th. Under U.S. law, stealing trade secrets carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and CNBC reported that Zhang could be fined up to $250,000.
He is not the only person accused of stealing automotive industry trade secrets from Apple and attempting to send classified material to his Xpeng. In 2019, another former Apple employee was accused of trying to smuggle manuals, schematics, diagrams, and photos of Apple’s automotive project into China. According to CNBC, his lawsuit is still ongoing.
That same year, Tesla alleged that a former employee uploaded source code related to his Autopilot system to his iCloud account, which he brought to Xpeng. The company told The Verge at the time that it “respects the intellectual property rights and confidential information of others.” Not announced.
Recent rumors have suggested that it could be announced in 2025, but the project seems to have been difficult for Apple. The report paints a picture of the team dealing with high turnover of both engineers and executives, technical problems, and a lack of trust in the project from some of his Apple executives.