Luminar to invest in Geely-affiliated Ecarx, eyes China market

·2-min read

Luminar, the Florida-based lidar company that went public via SPAC in 2020, has formed a close alliance with an auto behemoth in China. It's making a strategic investment of an undisclosed amount in Ecarx, an auto tech startup co-founded by Eric Li, founder of China's largest private automaker Geely, Ecarx said on Thursday.

The funding will be part of the pair's wider collaboration on automotive-grade technologies, which aims to "enable advanced safety and automated driving capabilities in the production of consumer vehicles and commercial trucks," a plan that Luminar unveiled in May.

Luminar's sensing technology can potentially reach millions of vehicles through the Geely/Ecarx auto empire. Ecarx is building a comprehensive platform for the future of cars, focusing on the likes of auto chips and smart vehicles. Its customers include, unsurprisingly, Geely-owned brands like Lotus and Volvo.

Shen Ziyu, Ecarx's other co-founder and a former General Motors executive, told Reuters in March 2021 that the company had already supplied 2.5 million vehicles.

The lidar industry in China is enjoying a boom as the country's electric car makers -- which themselves have benefited from government support for renewable energy -- woo picky consumers with advanced driving technology, in-car entertainment and other novel auto features.

Luminar's tie-up with Ecarx will be critical in helping it confront domestic lidar players, from BYD-backed RoboSense and Bosch-backed Hesai to Temasek-funded Innovusion and Livox, which sprang out of DJI.

"The collaboration will help Luminar to accelerate deployment of its industry-leading long-range lidar and software in the [Chinese] market and beyond through Ecar's deep connection with Geely and the Geely ecosystem, comprising some of the world’s most reputable automotive brands," Luminar said in May.

The same month, the American lidar maker said it had brought on Jackie Chen, a Harman veteran, to head its China business.

Ecarx's empire is ever expanding. On Thursday, the company announced another funding boost along with the Luminar partnership. Siengine, an automotive system on chip maker it co-founded with Arm China, has completed a Series A funding round of nearly 1 billion yuan or $15 million. Sequoia Capital China led the round, with Bosch's China venture capital arm Boyuan Capital and others participating.

Earlier this month, Li and Shen bought Chinese smartphone maker Meizu, once a Xiaomi archrival, to work toward a future of "multi-device, scenario-agnostic, and immersive" digital experience, which will no doubt include system integration between vehicles and handsets.

In May, Ecarx announced plans to go public through a merger with a blank-check firm in a $3.8 billion deal.

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