Daimler to Take Stake in Luminar, Diversifying Autonomous Efforts

Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies, holds a lidar box for a photograph.
Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies, holds a lidar box at the company's headquarters in Portola Valley, Calif., in July 2017. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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Daimler AG’s truck unit is investing in a laser-sensor startup to bolster its development of self-driving trucks in the U.S. less than a week after striking a deal to use driverless technology from a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Daimler Truck AG said Oct. 30 it will take a minority stake in Luminar Technologies Inc., a lidar developer that plans to go public via a reverse merger. The world’s biggest commercial-vehicle maker joins other investors including tech billionaire Peter Thiel and an arm of Volvo Car AB in an equity financing ahead of the startup’s public-market debut.

The announcement comes just days after Daimler agreed to incorporate self-driving technology from Alphabet unit Waymo in its Freightliner Cascadia trucks to be sold to U.S. customers.

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Daimler plans to use technology from Luminar, which makes laser-based sensors that allow a vehicle to “see” its surroundings, for its in-house effort to develop automated heavy-duty trucks.

Trucks Not Taxis

As part of that initiative, the German company is pairing with Torc Robotics, a Virginia-based autonomous-driving company it bought a majority stake in last year. Daimler and Torc will have the technology ready to sell to freight customers within a decade, said Torc CEO Michael Fleming. Daimler will then offer customers Cascadias with its own self-driving tech or the rival system from Waymo.

“We definitely see there are bigger chances in trucking” than robotaxis for deploying driverless technology, said Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of autonomous technology at Daimler Trucks. “The business opportunity is bigger and the problem you have to solve is easier.”

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Daimler is stepping away from robotaxis and mobility services. Bloomberg reported in September it’s considering selling its ride-hailing joint venture with BMW AG to Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Ola Kallenius is focusing more on profitability to safeguard investments in future technology, which requires sweeping efforts to trim expenses across the organization.


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Tech and automotive companies have been eyeing longhaul trucking as a more lucrative pathway to commercialize self-driving software. Waymo CEO John Krafcik said last year that trucks driving on easily repeatable routes are likely to be faster adopters of the technology than taxis in urban areas.

Lidar maker Luminar said Oct. 30 it plans to complete its $3.4 billion merger with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc. and go public in early December.

Dieter Zetsche, who stepped down as Daimler AG’s CEO last year, will chair a council of auto executives that will help Luminar make deeper inroads in the industry, the company said. Matt Simoncini, a Luminar board member and former CEO of Lear Corp., will also be on the council, it said.

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