The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.
Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.
Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.
Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.
Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.
Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.
Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.
Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California.
Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.
Lincoln’s first EV will arrive in 2022 with three more to follow
Lincoln Motor will launch its first all-electric vehicle in 2022 followed by three other EVs as part of the luxury brand’s goal to electrify its entire portfolio by the end of the decade.
The first EV will come to market just in time for Lincoln’s 100th birthday celebration — and nearly four years since initial reports emerged that the brand was aiming to electrify its lineup. Like GM’s luxury brand Cadillac, Lincoln doesn’t have an all-electric vehicle in its lineup. But Lincoln is keen to catch up and has set a lofty target for half of its global sales to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2025. These new vehicles fall under Ford’s commitment to invest $30 billion into electric vehicles through 2025.
The announcement by Lincoln follows a string of EV-related news from Ford and its competitors. On Wednesday, rival GM said it planned to invest $35 billion in EVs and autonomous vehicles — an $8 billion increase from its financial commitment made back in November 2020.
The Lincoln EV was originally going to be built on Rivian’s skateboard platform. However, those plans were scrapped in April 2020. The companies said at the time that they still plan to co-develop a vehicle in the future. A Lincoln spokesperson confirmed those co-development plans were still intact, but did not reveal any more information.
For now, Lincoln’s electric vehicles will be based on a new, dedicated EV architecture developed by Ford. The automaker announced in May during its Capital Markets Day for investors that it was developing two flexible platforms, one for smaller SUVs and sedans and another for larger pickups. This is a different architecture used in the current Ford Mustang Mach-E and upcoming Ford F-150 Lightning.
The new flexible platform, which allows for rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles, is expected to underpin EV versions of the Lincoln Aviator and Ford Explorer.
According to Lincoln, the automaker’s first fully electric car will join the likes of plug-in hybrid SUVs Aviator and Corsair. Lincoln has not yet revealed what model the new EV will take, but it hinted the design might be similar to the Lincoln Zephyr Reflection concept sedan revealed at Auto Shanghai this year, made specifically for the Chinese market. Lincoln’s electric car will be available for sale in both the United States and China.
Lincoln also shared information on the interior of its new EV, attempting to make it a minimalistic and expansive space with a panoramic roof vista to create a more airy feel, one that befits a “sanctuary,” as the automaker is referring to its vehicle. Perhaps most notable is the upcoming EVs will have a digital platform built off the Android operating system, which will allow the company to offer third-party apps and services and update the software remotely.
The vehicle will also be equipped with advanced driver-assist features, including hands-free driving on certain highways.
Polestar to build its first all-electric SUV in the United States
Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, will manufacture its first all-electric SUV in the United States.
The automaker said Wednesday that the Polestar 3 will be assembled at a plant shared with Volvo Cars at a factory in Ridgeville, South Carolina. The Polestar 3 follows the all-electric Polestar 2 sedan and the hybrid grand tourer Polestar 1. Production of Polestar 3 is expected to begin globally in 2022.
Polestar COO Dennis Nobelius said production in the U.S. will reduce delivery times, the environmental impact associated with shipping vehicles around the world and the price of the Polestar 3.
“All of this makes the brand even more competitive in the critical American sales market,” Nobelius said.
Polestar also plans to open around 25 retail spaces in the United States this year, where customers can take test drives, free pick-up and delivery servicing and mobile service.
The Polestar 3 is being built for U.S. customers, making this the first vehicle from the brand to be manufactured in the country. The announcement comes two months since Polestar raised $550 million in its first external round led by Chongqing Chengxing Equity Investment Fund Partnership, Zibo Financial Holding and Zibo Hightech Industrial Investment. SK Inc., the South Korean global conglomerate, and a range of other investors also participated.
Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.
Since its launch, Polestar has opened a manufacturing facility in China, built a global sales and distribution operation, and launched two vehicles, the Polestar 1 and the all-electric Polestar 2.
Lordstown Motors execs cite binding orders to restore confidence a day after CEO, CFO resignations
Lordstown Motors has enough “binding orders” from customers to fund limited production of its electric pickup truck through May 2022, executives at the company said Tuesday, just a day after an executive shakeup that included the resignation of the company’s CEO and CFO.
Reaching that goal will come at a cost. The company is putting all of its resources toward the Endurance pickup truck, which means other projects, including an electric recreational van, have been put on hold, according to comments made by Lordstown interim CEO Angela Strand and President Rich Schmidt during an automotive press event.
“We’re just focused currently on the Endurance truck,” Schmidt said at the event, according to a report by CNBC. “That’s our next goal for the next three months, to make sure we hit our production targets and stay within our budgets and drive forward to getting the vehicles ready for the market.”
What was meant to be the “first mass produced all-electric RV” should have been revealed this month, but with its money woes, Lordstown has pushed back the reveal and removed mention of the van from its amended annual filing — a change first noted earlier this month by the WSJ.
Investors responded to the company’s “we have enough capital” and “binding order” comments and put less weight on the “we’re punting on the electric van” part. Shares of Lordstown Motors were up 11.34% on the news to close at $10.31.
Lordstown’s Q1 report filed with the SEC last week showed a startling lack of capital that would have gotten in the way of manufacturing and delivering the EV pickup. In the filing, the company warned investors that it had “substantial doubt regarding [its] ability to continue” in the next year. The automaker has faced scrutiny in the past after investment research firm Hindenburg Research said the company had misled consumers and investors about Endurance’s preorders.
But Tuesday is a “new day” for the automaker-gone-SPAC, says Strand. Schmidt revealed the company has enough orders for limited production of the Endurance for 2021 and 2022, calling those orders “firm” and “binding.” The work truck will start at $55,000, he said. To compare, the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, another truck aimed at commercial customers, will start below $40,000.
Schmidt said the company has $400 million in the bank, but would need more to increase its ability to build more than 20,000 vehicles per year. Lordstown is actively seeking additional capital from GM, which owns a small stake in the startup, and other early investors. In a statement to Reuters, GM said, “we are comfortable with our current relationship with LMC but we are willing to listen to proposals that make sense for both parties.”
Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough
Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 this week to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding. Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.
Good data is the “good bones” of autonomous driving systems
Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why:
If you think about a traditional software system, the thing that will separate a good software system from a bad software system is the code, the quality of the code. For an AI system, which all of these self-driving vehicles or autonomous vehicles are, it’s the data that really separates an amazing algorithm from a bad algorithm. And so one thing we saw was that being one of the stewards and shepherds of high-quality data was going to be incredibly important for the industry, and that’s what’s played out. We work with many of the great companies in the space, from Aurora to Nuro to Toyota to General Motors, and our work with all of them is ensuring that they have really a solid data foundation, so they can build the rest of their stacks on top of it. (Time stamp: 06:24)
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