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Luminar’s CFO Aims to Conserve Cash as Company Begins Commercial Production

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Luminar Technologies Inc., which makes sensors for autonomous cars, is looking to boost production while building up a cash cushion on its balance sheet.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company took advantage of the investor frenzy for public listings by merging with a special-purpose acquisition company in December.

The transaction provided Luminar with the infusion of capital it needed to begin producing lidar sensors that use lasers to measure distances and classify objects for self-driving vehicles at a commercial scale, according to Chief Financial Officer

Tom Fennimore.

As a public company, however, Luminar must be mindful of how it spends the cash, he added.

Luminar has positioned itself in recent years to benefit from the expected rise of autonomous vehicles. It has announced partnerships with car makers including Volvo Cars, which is owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group,

Daimler AG’s

trucks business and

SAIC Motor Corp.

Ltd. to incorporate its sensor technology into self-driving vehicle designs.

The sensor technology will be a feature that customers can opt to buy in some vehicle designs, rather than a standard feature, Mr. Fennimore said.

Luminar last month also began producing sample versions of its sensors at a contract manufacturing facility in Monterrey, Mexico. The company expects the facility to produce at a commercial scale by the end of 2022. Luminar declined to comment on associated costs.

But for Luminar to turn a profit, vehicle manufacturers must demonstrate that their customers are confident in giving up the wheel. The company expects to be profitable around 2024, an estimate based on volume forecasts from its corporate partners, among other data, Mr. Fennimore said.

He also is preparing for the unexpected. “If we do hit a bump on the road, we want to make sure that we aren’t spending too much of our cash,” he said. The company, as a result, has a goal of ending 2021 with at least as much cash on its balance sheet as it had at the beginning of the year. The company had $485.7 million in liquidity—a figure that includes cash and marketable securities—as of Dec. 31, a baseline for the coming year. During the first quarter, it raised about $154 million by redeeming warrants from its SPAC deal. It had $610.3 million in liquidity as of March 31.

Tom Fennimore serves as the chief financial officer for Orlando, Fla.-based Luminar Technologies.



Photo:

Luminar Technologies Inc.

Mr. Fennimore said his investment priorities for the year include kick-starting production at the Monterrey facility, which is operated by

Celestica Inc.,

a Canadian manufacturing company. The company declined to share production targets, but Mr. Fennimore said getting the facility up and running will put it on a path to profitability. Luminar last year reported a net loss of $362.3 million, compared with a net loss of $94.7 million in 2019.

Luminar’s business model is centered on selling lidar sensors to vehicle manufacturers. The company, which employs about 400 people, in May 2020 signed an agreement with Volvo to incorporate lidar sensors on the rooftops of the car maker’s first fully autonomous vehicles beginning in 2022. It also has agreements in place with autonomous vehicle startup Pony.ai. The company has a mix of specific orders and estimated future sales from vehicle makers, according to a spokeswoman.

“Ultimately, nobody really knows yet by how much there’s going to be a volume ramp, which is really going to depend on customer demand,” said Tristan Gerra, a managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co., an investment firm, referring to the demand for Luminar’s sensors.

While Tesla and others already offer assisted-driving features, startups Waymo, Cruise, TuSimple and Aurora are betting their autonomous vehicles will make driving a thing of the past. WSJ asked them about safety and other challenges they face. Photo composite: George Downs

Luminar focuses on developing sensors for vehicles that don’t require a human driver for all or part of a trip. That category of vehicles accounted for no sales globally in 2020, and is projected to make up roughly 1% of sales in 2025 and 2% by 2030, according to data provider

IHS Markit Ltd.

Luminar, established in 2012, could face competition from other lidar companies that could begin commercial production in the coming years, said Richard Shannon, a senior research analyst at Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, an investment firm. Competitors include companies such as Aeva Technologies Inc.

For now, the company has a first-to-market advantage, Mr. Shannon said. “They’re probably two years ahead of anyone else,” he said.

Write to Kristin Broughton at [email protected]

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