Valeo sits atop Lidar market – So far

By Junko Yoshida for the Ojo & Yoshida Report – Startups tout whizzy technologies, but they lack the ability that automotive OEMs demand to industrialize, verify and validate their products.

What’s at stake?

Sorting out hype from reality is critical when it comes to automotive lidars. At stake for auto OEMs is selecting the appropriate sensors for ADAS and AV applications, and determining which vendors they can count on to deliver.

In an automotive lidar market crowded with startups touting new technologies and claimed design wins, it may come as a surprise that the most dominant lidar supplier in the world is Valeo, a stodgy French Tier One behemoth with a history that spans nearly a century.

Valeo’s mass-produced laser-based range finders have been designed into Audi vehicles, starting in 2010 with Audi’s A8, as well as cars from Honda and Mercedes-Benz. “All the cars equipped with lidar today are using Valeo’s generation-one [Scala 1] or the generation-two [Scala 2] lidars,” said Pierrick Boulay, analyst at Yole Développement.

Among the sensor modalities used by carmakers, lidar is the most overpromised and underdelivered. Lidars are considered superior to other sensors because they offer resolutions unobtainable by radars, and they work in bad weather conditions that stymie cameras. The automotive industry has heard from many lidar companies pitching their products. Despite the promises, there are very few lidars available that meet automotive-grade requirements at a price OEMs can afford. Also, there appear to be problems with volume production.

Startups pursuing investors have fallen under the spell of a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) mania. Lidar newbies going public via SPACs include Aeva Technologies, AEye, Cepton, Innoviz, Luminar Technologies, Ouster, Quanergy and Velodyne Lidar.

Against this hyperactive backdrop, Valeo remained relatively silent, observed Boulay, before quietly emerging as “a clear leader today on the ADAS market.”

The Ojo-Yoshida Report sat down with Clément Nouvel, Valeo’s lidar technical director, at company headquarters in Paris. We asked Nouvel what separates Valeo from lidar upstarts, and about the company’s future technologies. These include the third-generation mechanical lidar Scala 3, Valeo’s flash lidars and a future breed of frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) lidars.

What makes Valeo a leader?

Three advantages have propelled Valeo to its global leadership position in lidars: a 12-year history in developing lidars, tight relationships with OEMs (Valeo itself is a Tier One) and its ability to produce automotive-grade lidar units in volume.

Lidar has been billed as “a killer sensor” since the early 2000s, the Darpa Grand Challenge days, said Nouvel, prompting Valeo’s lidar initiative. The die was cast in 2010 when Audi asked Valeo to add lidar to its top-of-the-line A8 car models.

Photo: Clément Nouvel, Valeo’s LiDAR technical director (Photo: The Ojo-Yoshida Report)

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