US lidar maker Luminar wants to illuminate China’s smart vehicles

Luminar, the Nasdaq-listed lidar maker from Florida, is entering China as the world’s largest auto market races to put self-driving and automated vehicles on the road.

By 2028, more than a million Luminar-equipped cars will be on the road in China, according to Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell. saying this week at Auto Shanghai, one of the world’s largest auto trade shows.

It’s refreshing to see foreign investment continue to flow into the auto sector between the two superpowers despite their escalating clashes over issues like national security. After all, it’s hard to miss China’s huge car market.

With its 500 million drivers, China is a coveted location for foreign car manufacturers and suppliers. Much of Tesla’s meteoric rise is attributed to its success in China, which now accounts for more than half of its deliveries and has become a major manufacturing hub for the EV giant.

People in China are also willing to pay for smarter cars. Sixty percent of Chinese consumers surveyed by McKinsey & Company in 2021 said they would likely buy a Tier 4 Advanced Road Racer for less than $10,000, compared to 57% in the US and just 36%. in Germany. So it’s no surprise to see Chinese automakers, from state-owned giants to startups, rushing to integrate hands-on-the-wheel automated driving features into their vehicles as a selling point.

Luminar is riding the wave of welcoming consumers to China. To do so, it partnered with Taiwan’s TPK, a key supplier of touch screens to Apple and Tesla, to “build and operate an additional high-volume factory driven by growing demand for Luminar in Asia,” the company announced at Auto Shanghai. . This is in addition to its existing manufacturing bases in the US, Thailand, Mexico and China.

In the initial stage, TPK’s new factory, whose location is not disclosed, is expected to produce up to 600,000 lidar sensors a year to serve customers such as Mercedes Benz, which just signed a “multi-billion dollar” deal to use the lidar sensors. of Luminar in its latest generation vehicles.

Whether this new Asian manufacturing hub will also fulfill orders from Luminar customers beyond the continent remains to be seen. But China will definitely play a big role in their sales. Of the now more than 20 production vehicle models Luminar is designed on, most are slated for the Chinese market, the company said.

There is another important client. At Auto Shanghai, Volvo revealed that its all-electric EX90 Excellence SUV, which will come with Luminar lidars, will hit stores in China for the first time.

TechCrunch has reached out to Luminar for more details on its China roadmap.

The alliance with TPK goes beyond their manufacturing partnership. TPK also plans to buy Luminar shares to reflect its “belief in Luminar’s potential,” according to the Luminar announcement. Shares of the lidar maker have lost more than 80% of their value since peaking at $37 in February 2021.

Luminar faces a host of domestic competitors in China, ranging from Hesai, which just went public in the US; Robosense, which has secured a long-term partnership with Chinese robotaxi start-up DeepRoute; and Livox, the low-profile lidar maker spun out of drone giant DJI.

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