By Johannes Hellstrom and Esha Vaish
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's Veoneer expects to gain from a commercial delay in self-driving cars, betting that rising demand for its radar and camera-based systems as the industry ramps up to autonomy will boost its market position.
Forecasts on when autonomous vehicles will become a commercial reality have been receding, with most analysts now expecting broad-based adoption to take another decade as accidents in early testing have raised fresh concerns about regulation, technology and cost.
Veoneer, seen by many investors as a play on autonomous driving, has suffered as a result. Weak car markets, delayed 2020 targets and cash concerns also contributed to a 36 percent drop in Veoneer's stock over the past six months.
Chief Technology Officer Nishant Batra, however, said that by being more selective following its investment and product portfolio review, Veoneer could position itself to scale up more efficiently and set the foundation for the future.
He said increasing requirements for active safety features to get top ratings in car safety assessment schemes such as the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) would be the big market driver for the coming years.
Veoneer's base case is that the market for its active safety products will soar to $24 billion in 2025, from $7 billion in 2018.
"We have always focused on getting the portfolio ready for attacking that demand," Chief Technology Officer Nishant Batra said. He added that the bigger role in the market for camera and vision systems coupled with software for combining data from different sensors was a "sweet spot" for the company.
Some analysts are skeptical. UBS repeated its "sell" rating on Veoneer in a note on Monday, citing worries over the company's growth as well as capital concerns.
Loss-making Veoneer kept its $4 billion sales target for 2022 intact and reported a 95 percent jump in active safety order bookings last year, but the delay of its 2020 targets increased concerns it might run short of capital before sales kick in and be unable to keep up with better-capitalized rivals.
While Veoneer and rivals Continental and Bosch all have mono- and stereo camera systems with internally developed software, U.S.-based Aptiv has focused on mono cameras with much success, sourcing algorithms from vision software market leader Mobileye, owned by Intel.
Deutsche Bank, which rates Veoneer a "sell", said in February the company faced "big near term challenges" from high investment costs, adding it had longer-term questions about the differentiation of Veoneer's technology, a risk to its competitiveness and margins.
Veoneer believes driver monitoring will be an important area, with sensor fusion between the inward-looking and outward looking camera underway, and Batra said thermal imagery and camera fusing was also being increasingly discussed.
He said the move from the so-called level 1 to level 2 opened up the market for sensor fusion software, which can be monetized through added advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
Cars are classified on a 0-5 autonomy scale, with level 2 partially automated, level 3 conditionally automated, and level 4 highly automated and capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions.
"This market has suddenly come alive for us. When you go from level 1 to level 3, some of the centralization of computing already starts," he said.
Batra said Veoneer's main driverless push, Zenuity - the ADAS and autonomous drive software joint venture with Volvo Cars - should be seen as self-sustaining with its software used for both sensor fusion and Level 4 products.
"This also helps the OEMs (carmakers) get ready for the eventual journey toward level 4, so we see this market take off and we have won some good initial contracts in this space."
(Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom and Esha Vaish; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)