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Luminar CEO: We’re absolutely in this for the long run

Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman, Brian Sozzi, and Myles Udland speak with Luminar Technologies CEO Austin Russell about the company’s market debut today.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: But we begin our program today with one of the biggest stories in markets in 2020. And that, of course, is the SPAC boom. Luminar Technologies set to make its public market debut on the NASDAQ today, trading under the ticker LAZR in a combination with Gores Metropoulos that will value the startup at $3.4 billion.

And we're joined now by Luminar CEO Austin Russell. Austin, great to have you on the program. Thanks for stopping by today. I'd love to begin maybe just a quick outline for the viewers who aren't as familiar with your company on what you do, where you sit within that autonomous driving tech stack, and sort of the vision for the company over the next several years.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Absolutely. Thanks for having me here. And great to be on it. You got a great crew.

So with Luminar, so we build really LiDAR sensing technology and software for autonomous vehicles, so really, the key enabling systems that can allow these vehicles to see and understand the world around them reliably and accurately. You know, it's easy for these cars to work, you know, 99% of the time and autonomy to do that, but it's all about that last 1% when you want to get these things out of R&D and into production. And that's exactly what we do.

So the differentiator here is we built our technology entirely from the ground up, you know, all of our own components, you know, going into this to really solve this core problem. And, you know, it was an eight-year journey leading up to the listing here, certainly an exciting one. You know, we've had a very, you know, intensive development process through this. But we've achieved the first and only sensing system to meet the required performance of seeing out 250 meters very reliably in the distance, having the resolution, and having the economics to make it all work while pairing it with software.

And now as well, you know, for the first five years, we spent development coming out of stealth in 2017. The last few years, we've continued on that trajectory while commercializing it. We're now working with over 50 major commercial partners, including 7 of the top 10 largest OEMs.

So most recently, you know, just this year, we've announced a few of the first production deals for autonomy when it comes to initially with Volvo cars, getting this out there in consumer vehicles. So they're a lead partner on the passenger vehicle side. The other major verticals, you know, you have autonomous trucks.

You know, we have Daimler Trucks, which is the largest producer of commercial vehicles, as a lead partner in that domain, you know, ultimately to bring this to market here. And equivalently, we have a new ecosystem partnership with Mobileye for their AV series solution and also their internal robo-taxi fleet they're deploying globally. So exciting times.

JULIE HYMAN: Exciting times indeed. And, Austin, we should mention you talked about that eight-year journey that you embarked upon. We should mention you started that journey when you were 16, which is pretty remarkable.

So talk to me about the journey from here then. You've got all those partners you were just talking about. I know that you expect to actually start to see vehicles enabled with this technology, what, in 2022, if that's correct? So what does the next year then look like for Luminar? What are you gonna be doing on the ground, especially with the proceeds that you've raised by doing this deal?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah. Yeah. No. No. It's a great question.

And I think that's absolutely right, you know, a timeline for series production for the models that were designed into rolling off the line in 2022. And these are cars that you can actually buy. You know, this isn't just an internal program with someone.

So that is makes all the difference. And for us in going through this journey and kind of what's ahead, of course, there was a lot of intensive effort leading up to this stage where it's possible to be designed in working with these major OEMs. But, you know, going forward, for us, it's really all about execution.

You know, I mean, we're seeing-- when you take a look at the different factors that go into this type of business, there's, of course, the core technology, which is the foundation. But that technology problem is in large part-- for us, it's solved. We meet the requirements. We meet the spec. We solved it.

You know, it's easy to put some numbers, so to say, on a slide or in terms of what a target is. But that was the intensive process that we had to go through over those eight years with our 350 team members and $250 billion invested to make that work. Now, really, as we move forward, we're continuing to commercialize with all of our different partners and progress through the phases there.

I think it's really more a matter of when, you know, as all of these automakers progress, than if. And-- but, of course, it shouldn't be understated we need to continue to execute. That's really what, in large part, this influx of capital is for. So we're looking at here as part of this transaction raising-- or what we've raised now-- gross proceeds of nearly $600 million to further accelerate that growth and the trajectory of execution, along with our partners and be able to have new high ROI investments that are really gonna be paying out over the course of the decade.

BRIAN SOZZI: Austin, I'm really fascinated by what you're doing with Daimler. Now, Daimler is an investor in Luminar. How long before we see self-driving semi trucks as part of that deal? And then how disruptive is what you're doing going to be just to the, really, I would say, boring transportation industry?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah. So when it comes down to it-- you know, and talking about the Daimler deal there, I think it's absolutely aligned. It is really a breakthrough as an opportunity to be able to work with one of the largest-- or say by far, the largest, you know, trucking OEM to be able to get these out on real roads. And, again, you know, having that direct relationship is key.

So in this case, I do believe, actually, the trucking and logistics industry is gonna be one of the largest and also one of the most overlooked, frankly, you know, opportunities in this larger industry. You know, it's nearly $1 trillion a year in the US alone. And it's really-- a huge portion of it is up for grabs for whoever solves this problem. And so far, we've been leading the charge, working with nearly every major autonomous trucking effort out there and powering those systems.

So in this case, though, I think when it comes to these things in the timelines here, you know, these kinds of deals, you know, they don't come out of nowhere, right? You know, we've had to work, you know, extensively hand in hand for these companies for years prior-- generally, a couple of years-- before it gets to the stage where you can start to get it out there towards the production deployment. And generally, what we're seeing for the automakers is anywhere from between the 2022 to 2025 timeline for series production of the vehicles that we would be-- or are designed into here.

So our product is fully ready to go for the first launch models for 2022. And actually, we surpassed a huge milestone of already shipping our series production product, and the initial samples of it, are now live up and running on Volvo vehicles, which on the consumer side, you know, they've really taken a huge lead.

JULIE HYMAN: Austin, I have to ask you the requisite SPAC question, which is, why did you decide to do a deal with Gore Metropoulos to come public versus doing an initial public offering versus just staying private for longer?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah. No. No. It's a great question.

You know, and ultimately, we had a few different opportunities on the table, you know, a large strategic opportunity, you know, going down the route of going public through IPO or by way of SPAC. You know, I think, really, the thing that we've always done in our head, this has always been ultimately on our roadmap to go down the public approach. And by the way, I think the approach that a lot of times people set their businesses up as is, you know, more of an acquisition target or, you know, kind of a more short-term play.

We're absolutely all in for this for the long run to be able to work with all these different automakers and see this technology through into the real world at scale. So with that, though, the key catalyst that we always saw as an opportunity that made the most sense for a company in the autonomous vehicle space to go public was whoever is able to win the first production deal to take this stuff out of R&D and bring it into the real world.

And that's really where following the Volvo win that we had and the first to be able to do that, that's where we started to get a lot of heightened interest altogether to be able to do that because you get a lot of strong forward-looking visibility on revenue. And that makes all the difference. It's how we've been able to build out, you know, a now estimated $1.3 billion forward-looking order book for the business from all these different types of volume estimates from the deals that we have.

MYLES UDLAND: All right. Austin Russell is the CEO of Luminar Technologies, making its debut on the NASDAQ right around 20 minutes from now. Austin, congratulations. And we hope you'll come back and talk when those quarterly results start rolling in.

Big responsibility, as you know, being a public CEO. Congratulations. We look forward to talking to you in the future.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: All right. Thanks so much for having me.