That’s right: The most impressive new car I’ve driven so far this year is the XPeng P7. No, I’d never heard of XPeng or its P7 sedan until a few months ago, either.

To be clear, the XPeng P7 isn’t a world beater in terms of its design, performance, or powertrain technology. It’s merely an accomplished EV—quick and smooth, quiet and comfortable, handsome in the Tesla Model S fashion but with a more luxurious interior and similar levels of tech. It would be right at home right now on any American driveway, with no excuses needed. And that’s what makes the XPeng P7 so impressive. You see, the P7, which made its debut at the 2019 Shanghai auto show, is the second-ever car from an automaker that’s only existed for eight years.

Think about that. The first Toyota sold in the U.S., the 1958 Toyopet Crown, launched eight years after Toyota resumed making cars in the aftermath of World War II and compared so poorly with American and European cars of the time that its sale was halted in 1960.

Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1967, but it wasn’t until 1986, with the launch of the front-drive Excel, that it dared enter the U.S. market. Even then, the Excel’s key selling point was its low price. No one considered its product attributes—its performance, dynamics, efficiency, or quality—on par with mainstream subcompact cars.

The XPeng P7 is a graphic example of the new reality of the auto business in the EV age. In the past, as Toyota and Hyundai and others discovered, the cost and complexities of developing internal combustion engines and suitable transmissions meant newcomers faced huge challenges in terms of delivering vehicles with refined driving manners, good performance and fuel consumption, and solid reliability.
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