Lidar startup Luminar to go public via $3.4 billion SPAC merger

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Luminar, the lidar startup that burst onto the autonomous vehicle scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy, is merging with special-purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc., with a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion.

Gores Metropoulos, which is listed on the Nasdaq exchange, is a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC sponsored by an affiliate of The Gores Group, the global investment firm founded in the late 1980s by Alec Gores.

The SPAC merger comes just three months after the Luminar hit a critical milestone and announced that Volvo would start producing vehicles in 2022 equipped with its lidar and a perception stack. The Luminar technology will be use to deploy an automated driving system for highways.

Luminar is the latest startup — and second lidar company — to turn to SPACs this summer in lieu of a traditional IPO process. In June, Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Four electric vehicle startups have also skipped the traditional IPO path in recent months and instead taken their companies public through a merger agreement with a SPAC, which are also known as blank check companies. Canoo, Fisker Inc. Lordstown Motors, Nikola Corp. and Nikola have also gone public via a SPAC merger.

Luminar said it was able to raise $170 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, by institutional investors including Alec Gores, Van Tuyl Companies, Peter Thiel, Volvo Cars Tech Fund, Crescent Cove, Moore Strategic Ventures, GoPro founder Nick Woodman and VectoIQ, with the majority of the major existing investors participating. The transaction will also include a balance of about $400 million cash that has been held by Gores Metropoulos.

Once the transaction closes, Luminar will maintain its name and will be listed on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol LAZR. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020. Founder Austin Russell will continue to serve as CEO and Tom Fennimore will continue to serve as CFO. Alec Gores will join the Luminar board of directors upon closing of the transaction.

“This milestone is pivotal not just for us, but also for the larger automotive industry,” said Russell said in a statement. “Eight years ago, we took on a problem to which most thought there would be no technically or commercially viable solution. We worked relentlessly to build the tech from the ground up to solve it and partnered directly with the leading global automakers to show the world what’s possible. Today, we are making our next industry leap through our new long-term partnership with Gores Metropoulos, a team that has deep experience in technology and automotive and shares our vision of a safe autonomous future powered by Luminar.”

Luminar was founded by Russell in 2012, but it operated in secret for years until coming out of stealth in spring 2017 with backing from Thiel. Luminar has raised $250 million prior to the SPAC announcement. The company now has 350 employees and operations in Silicon Valley as well as a factory in Orlando. Luminar said it plans to open an office in Detroit as well.

Lidar, light detection and ranging radar, measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car. The sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. Automakers have also begun to view lidar as an important sensor to be used to beef up the capabilities and safety of its advanced driver assistance systems in the new cars trucks and SUVs available to consumers.

Volvo is one of those automakers. Luminar’s Iris lidar sensors — which TechCrunch  has described as about the size of really thick sandwich and one-third smaller than its previous iterations — will be integrated in the roof of Volvo’s production vehicles, beginning in 2022.

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