Luminar, the Nasdaq-listed lidar maker from Florida, is making a push into China as the world’s largest auto market races to put automated and autonomous driving vehicles on the road.
By 2028, more than 1 million Luminar-equipped cars will be on the road in China, Luminar’s founder and CEO Austin Russell said this week at Auto Shanghai, one of the world’s largest auto trade fairs. All of the cars will have advanced safety capabilities from the start and come equipped with the capabilities to unlock higher levels of autonomy over time, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch via email.
It’s refreshing to see foreign investment continue to flow into the auto sector between the two superpowers despite their escalating standoffs over issues like national security. After all, it’s hard to overlook China’s enormous car market.
With its 500 million drivers, China is a coveted place for foreign automakers and suppliers. Much of Tesla’s meteoric rise has been credited 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 behemoth.
People in China are also willing to pay for smarter cars. Sixty percent of the Chinese consumers surveyed by McKinsey & Company in 2021 said they were likely to buy a Level 4 advanced highway pilot for less than $10,000, compared to 57% in the U.S. and only 36% in Germany. It’s no surprise, then, to see Chinese carmakers, from state-owned giants to startups, rushing to integrate automated driving features, which still require hands on the wheels, into their vehicles as a selling point.
Luminar is catching the wave of welcoming consumers in China. To do so, it’s teamed up with Taiwan’s TPK, a key touch-screen supplier to Apple and Tesla, to “build and operate an additional high-volume factory driven by rapidly growing demand for Luminar in Asia,” the company announced at Auto Shanghai. This adds to its existing manufacturing bases across the U.S., Thailand, Mexico and China.
At the initial stage, the new TPK facility, which will be in Xiamen of China’s southeast Fujian Province, is expected to produce up to 600,000 lidar sensors annually to serve clients such as Mercedes-Benz, which just signed a “multibillion-dollar” deal to use Luminar lidars in its next-gen vehicles.
It remains to be seen if this new Asian manufacturing hub will also be fulfilling orders from Luminar’s clients beyond the continent. But China will definitely play a big part in its sales. Of the now more than 20 production vehicle models Luminar is designed into, the majority are slated for the Chinese market, the company said.
There’s another important client. At Auto Shanghai, Volvo unveiled that its all-electric SUV EX90 Excellence, which will come with Luminar’s lidars, will first hit the streets in China.
The tie-up with TPK goes beyond their manufacturing partnership. TPK is also planning to buy Luminar stock to reflect its “belief in Luminar’s potential,” according to Luminar’s announcement. The lidar maker’s stock has lost over 80% of its 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 U.S.; RoboSense, which has secured a long-term partnership with Chinese robotaxi upstart DeepRoute; and Livox, the low-key lidar maker that came out of the drone giant DJI.
The story was updated on Apr 18, 2023 with additional comments from Luminar.