Motional to begin testing autonomous vehicles in LA as part of California expansion plan

Motional, the autonomous vehicle company born out of a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv and Hyundai, is expanding its presence in California by opening a new operations facility in Los Angeles to support testing on public roads, hiring more engineers and adding an office in Silicon Valley.

The investment into the area follows a hiring spree that has pushed Motional’s total headcount to more than 1,000 people, an expansion into Seoul and its announcement last December to launch fully driverless robotaxi services in major U.S. cities in 2023 using the Lyft ride-hailing network.

While Motional declined to disclose its investment into the California expansion, the company is clearly putting its capital to work with plans to hire dozens of people and scale up operations in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Motional has had an office in Los Angeles since 2016. The LA office is where some of the company’s machine learning and hardware engineers are based. As part of its expansion plan, Motional has moved the team into a larger location in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier.

Mortional is also opening a new operations facility located a few miles away and plans to more than double the number of employees based in Los Angeles to more than 100 people. The operations facility will support Motional’s plans to begin mapping roads and eventually testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads. Testing routes will initially be centered in and around the Santa Monica area, near its office and operations facility.

Motional said it will use the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5, the vehicle that will be the cornerstone of its eventual commercial robotaxi service, in its testing there. The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February 2021 with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities such as lidar, radar and cameras. Level 4, is a designation by SAE, that means the vehicle will handle all driving operations in certain conditions and environments.

For now, the testing will involve autonomous vehicles with a safety driver behind the wheel. The company does not yet have a permit in the state to test its AVs without a human operator behind the wheel. That permit issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles,

This is first time the company has tested on public roads in Los Angeles. Motional already tests its AVs in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore.

Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma described this as a “doubling down” of its West Coast footprint. “This expansion is the latest in our growth trajectory and will position Motional with the talent, testing capabilities, and R&D resources we need to deliver on our commercialization roadmap, Iagnemma said, adding that Los Angeles has long been an important part of its global operations.

Motional has also opened an office in Milpitas, a Silicon Valley town located in the southern section of the San Francisco Bay. The company’s compute design team will be based out of this office, Motional said in its announcement.