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Luminar Technologies works to create autonomous vehicles that can operate at highway speeds

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Austin Russell, Founder and CEO Luminar Technologies, discuss the future of autonomous vehicles.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Joining us now for a first on Yahoo Finance Live is Luminar's founder and CEO Austin Russell. Austin, good to have you here, and congratulations on this announcement with Intel. This is your third major partnership announcement this year. Tell us how Mobileye is going to use your lidar technology and its self-driving cars.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, absolutely. It's definitely an exciting one and continue to acceleration momentum. And just-- yeah, just a couple weeks ago, we announced the Daimler deal-- you know, deal for Diamler trucks-- and excited to get those on the road.

And now, with Mobileye you know, this is a really special partnership here in that sense just because what we're doing is we're getting our lidar design into their autonomous vehicle platform, so to say. It's-- they're calling it the AV Series Solution. And that's where-- the initial use case they have it for that is internally, to their own driverless fleet, while in parallel, you know, these guys have been incredible leaders in the assisted-driving market and, from that perspective, you know, pretty much owning it altogether.

You know, they've shipped tens of millions of product out into the industry-- you know, real deal and know what it takes to put something into serious production. So with this, what's interesting, though, is that it's not just about their own internal efforts but also now being able to work with, you know, everyone else in the industry as part of the up-leveling from assisted driving to autonomous driving.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You mentioned the Daimler partnership. I know you also have a partnership with Volvo. When do you expect your technology to actually be planned for use in production vehicles?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yep, yep. So Volvo has been very public about the start of production date for 2022. You know, it's crazy, for this kind of thing, when it's out of just the R&D phase and going into series production, that's really the thing where we come into play of being able to help solve all of these edge cases that are a challenge for autonomous vehicles and allowing them to ultimately get on the roads.

So with that, that's what we're-- we've gone all in on Volvo, Daimler, and now Mobileye with. Mobileye's also been public with a 2022 timeline associated with this. So you know, we're gunning for that. The thing is, though, is that this stuff doesn't really-- this doesn't happen in a vacuum. We've had to work with all of these guys for years in advance. In this case, like in the case of Mobileye, the better part of a couple of years, and same with Volvo and Daimler, throughout the development process.

And now, when you're at a stage of when you're getting ready for series production, that's the huge revolution here. And that's what's unique to Luminar. You know, we've been the only ones to actually win these kinds of series production deals for the industry, when it comes to autonomy, to get these deployments out. And exciting to be able to up-level the space.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You mentioned that you're doing something pretty special and unique there with the lidar technology, but there are other companies in the space looking to go public as well via a SPAC. We saw it with Velodyne and also Avaya. Is there enough investor appetite, you think, for lidar technology, especially all of it sort of happening at the same time, it seems?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, it's-- there's definitely-- there's a lot of continuing interest, for sure. And you know, when it comes down to it, I think just as much as we are a lidar company, we are a-- you know, a system-level solution as an autonomous vehicle company and partner to a number of these different major automakers where we're now working with seven of the top 10 major OEMs at this stage, you know, towards this vision of series production. And from a development perspective, it's progressing very quickly.

So for us, we're particularly focusing in on the consumer vehicle as well as the autonomous trucking markets, you know, with-- and of course, in the case of Mobileye, they've dominated the landscape when it comes to assisted-driving system for consumer vehicles. They know what it means and takes. But really, we're the only solution that can successfully enable autonomy at highway speeds. You know, and that's really key to enabling this to work.

Of course, you know, there are other companies, other, you know, developments that have happened from a lidar perspective. You know, and that's where-- when during the R&D stage, you know, you don't always necessarily need the capabilities of Luminar off the bat. But when it's time for serious production, that's where we really come into play, you know, for these volume opportunities to be able to solve the problem. So there's no question that I'm sure there'll be a lot of great continued developments, but we're the only ones that meet the specs to actually get into production and now have the deals and the scale to be able to do so.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You have a pretty compelling story, Austin. I know you dropped out of Stanford at the age of 18 to start this company back in 2012. You're set to go public now and just a couple of weeks with the SPAC, the special-purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos, valuing the company at nearly $3.5 billion. I mean, you're set to become one of the youngest self-made billionaires. When you look back in hindsight, what do you think you've learned, or what would your message be for other up-and-coming entrepreneurs?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, I would say-- you know, it's certainly an exciting time for us. You know, I mean, this-- the thing is that there's just a huge amount of work that has to go all this from day one. You know, the amount of blood, sweat, and tears, you know, from all folks involved and the team has been nothing short of, you know, incredibly impressive, and it takes a lot of work.

You know, I would say and continue to encourage folks in just the next generation of entrepreneurs to be able to really think deeply about the problems that you want to solve, be passionate about it, and figure out creative solutions in an interdisciplinary capacity to solving problems. Like, in this case, we really had to take a blank-slate approach about thinking about how you would solve something. Like, throw out the legacy approaches, and how would you do it to be able to have the best possible solution?

In our case, it ended up taking, you know, eight years, you know, from end to end to go through the whole development cycle of this. You know, and we had to bring on a couple hundred highly-specialized engineers to build out these different components and, of course, a significant capital investment of, you know, $250 million that we've put into through this development to be able to get to this stage and now be in this position.

So you know, it's a journey, but you have to build it step by step. Continue to encourage people to create. You know, there's a lot of-- you know, we're living in the age of consumerism, but I have a huge amount of respect for creators, whatever it may be. And ultimately, you know, some things are just really interesting on their own. Some things are meant to be, you know, businesses. In this case, you know, we went all in on this and excited to be out there with it.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, I know Peter Thiel also backs your vision, also the founder of GoPro. They're two investors in the company. In the 30 seconds I have left, all these partnerships that you've got in the works right now, can you share any timeline on profitability?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it's a good question. So as it relates to this from a forward-looking order-book perspective, this is a-- really a key metric here. And you know, right now, in the industry, it's-- all of stuff in autonomy has been stuck in R&D mode. And for the first time now, we're actually able to translate that into series production to be able to get on these vehicles. And that's where it really made sense from a going-public perspective.

You know, we always talked about, that was going to be the first time you had that strong forward-looking visibility to do that. So with the combination of Volvo, Daimler, Mobileye and, you know, one other undisclosed one, it's-- we've actually built up an order book of-- and confirmed this-- an estimated $1.3 billion. You know, so that's-- you have some strong visibility there.

And then when it comes to the economics, for our core business, we actually only needed about $200 to $250 million to get to cash flow positive. But as part of this, we're expected to gross-- gross proceeds approaching roughly about $600 million. So we get a ton of strategic capital to be able to continue to accelerate these programs, continue to ramp.

And you know, I think we already-- you have to lock these things in years in advance. So we have that strong visibility and from a-- it's a high-margin business. And yeah, you could certainly expect that in the coming few years.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Austin Russell, CEO and founder of Luminar Technologies, going public through a SPAC on the NASDAQ December 3. We hope to see you back that day. Congratulations.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Thanks so much.