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XPeng Earnings Beat Estimates. That Wasn’t the Biggest Surprise.

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The Xpeng P7 electric vehicle is displayed outside the New York Stock Exchange

Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Stock in Chinese electric-vehicle maker


XPeng

rose Tuesday after the company reported better-than-expected third-quarter results. Sales and earnings beats, however, weren’t the only surprise for investors.

There was a new word in the company’s earnings release: robotaxis.

XPeng (ticker: XPEV ) shares rose almost 13% at one point before closing at $51.30, up 8.3%. The

S&P 500
and

Dow Jones Industrial Average
were up 0.2% and 0.6%, respectively. The Tuesday rise adds to recent gains for XPeng shareholders. The stock, coming into Tuesday, was up about 21% over the past three months. Growing EV deliveries as well as the successful initial public offering of


Rivian Automotive

(RIVN) has helped boost most EV maker stocks lately.

XPeng reported a third-quarter loss of 15 cents a share from $888 million in sales. Wall Street was looking for a loss of 18 cents a share and $789 million in sales.

Gross profit margin from selling cars came in at 13.6%, up from 11% in the second quarter and 3.2% in the third quarter of 2020. Operating profit, however, declined sequentially from the second quarter to the third quarter partly because spending on R&D ramped higher.

“In the third quarter, we continued record-setting growth with the highest vehicle deliveries among China’s startup new energy vehicle automakers,” said CEO He Xiaopeng in the company’s news release. XPeng delivered almost 26,000 cars in the third quarter.


NIO

(NIO) delivered about 24,000 and


Li Auto

(LI) delivered about 25,000.

“This outperformance testifies to the market’s recognition of the differentiated value our vertically integrated in-house developed software and hardware bring to our vehicles.”

Looking ahead, XPeng expects to deliver between 34,500 and 36,500 in the fourth quarter. That implies about 12,000 vehicle deliveries each month in November and December. The company delivered about 10,100 vehicles in October. More than 12,000 vehicles would be a monthly record for XPeng.

Rising deliveries is a sign that the global semiconductor shortage that has roiled auto production all year isn’t hurting XPeng all that much. That’s good news. Xiaoping had another bit of unexpected good news for shareholders: robotaxis.

“The solid progress we’ve made in [our navigation guided pilot] fuels greater confidence in our ability to explore autonomous driving enabled mobility solutions in the future, such as robotaxi technologies,” added the CEO.

Navigation guided pilot, or NGP, is how XPeng refers to its software and hardware that enable driver-assistance technologies such as adaptive cruise control and land-keeping assistance.

It’s the first time robotaxis has come up in an earnings release and will generate a lot of questions from investors on the 8 a.m. Eastern time conference call. Analysts and investors will want to know how close XPeng is to having self-driving cars on the road.

XPeng has been developing higher function driver-assistance features on recent models. XPeng also has lidar—or laser based radar—sensors on some models. Using lidar is still new in the industry. But no auto maker, including XPeng, has delivered a car with enough software and sensor technology that allows a driver to stop paying attention to the road yet.

Write to Al Root at allen.root@dowjones.com

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