Long-Lewis Automotive buys 1, sells 3 stores

Long-Lewis Automotive Group, of Tuscumbia, Ala., had an active spring and summer with buy-sell transactions, selling three dealerships and purchasing one.
Todd Ouellette Sr., CEO and majority shareholder of Long-Lewis Automotive, told Automotive News that his strategy was “a quest for scale and efficiency,” seeking to increase his group’s footprint in bigger markets.
Business partners Hussein Mawani and Nooris Merchant, co-owners of Merchant Automotive Group in Birmingham, Ala., purchased two dealerships in the state from Long-Lewis Automotive in June.
Long-Lewis Honda of Selma and Long-Lewis Ford of Selma were renamed Merchant Honda and Merchant Ford. Mawani said in a phone interview that he is dealer principal of the Honda store, and Merchant is dealer principal of the Ford store.

The Selma dealerships are the duo’s second and third new-vehicle stores. The partners bought a Nissan dealership in Troy, Ala., in January 2022.
Mawani said they already owned Birmingham Luxury Motors, a used-only dealership, since 2015.
The partners were attracted by the opportunity to purchase dealerships for large-volume brands with a full lineup of light trucks, Mawani said. “Selling trucks in southern Alabama? It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
In addition, he said Selma is a desirable location, considering their other properties. It is about 85 miles from Troy and about the same distance from Birmingham, he said.
Long-Lewis also sold Long-Lewis Ford of Corinth in Mississippi to Craig Denney. He renamed it Ford of Corinth.
That transaction closed May 31, Denney said in phone interview, adding it helped increase his presence in Corinth and gave him a more diverse group of brands.
Denney said he owns two other dealerships, Nissan of Gadsden in Alabama and a dualed store in Corinth that sells Nissan and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram vehicles.
Gerrick Wilkins, vice president and buyer’s broker representative for Dealer Support Network, represented the buyers in both transactions. Dealer Support Network has offices in Winnsboro, Texas, and Leeds, Ala.
Meanwhile, Ouellette said his group on July 10 bought Greenway Chevrolet of the Shoals in Tuscumbia from Greenway Automotive, of Orlando. The dealership was renamed Long-Lewis Chevrolet of the Shoals. Tuscumbia is in northern Alabama.
The Chevy dealership purchase was a good fit with the Tuscumbia location and the Long-Lewis group’s growth strategy, Ouellette said.Long-Lewis has seven dealerships across Alabama, and some have been honored as part of Automotive News’ Best Dealerships To Work For program.
“We already have Ford, VW and Mitsubishi in this market, and our corporate headquarters is also located here,” said Ouellette, a past Time Dealer of the Year nominee. “This acquisition just made sense as it relates to our quest for more scale and efficiency.”
The selling dealer was Carl Atkinson, Ouellette said. Atkinson could not be reached for comment.
Greenway Automotive ranks No. 17 on Automotive News’ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 31,064 new vehicles in 2022.

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U.S. lawmakers demand documents on Ford battery partnership with CATL

WASHINGTON – The chairs of three U.S. House of Representatives committees demanded Ford turn over documents tied to its partnership with Chinese battery company CATL and threatened to call CEO Jim Farley to testify before Congress.
Republicans Jason Smith, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Mike Gallagher – who chair the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and China select committees – jointly wrote to Farley with a new deadline seeking documents about the CATL partnership and the automaker’s plan to build a $3.5 billion battery manufacturing plant in Michigan using Chinese technology.
“Ford’s ongoing refusal to provide substantive responses … raises serious concerns regarding its licensing agreement with CATL,” the lawmakers wrote on Tuesday in a previously unreported letter seen by Reuters.

Republicans have been probing Ford’s battery plant plan for months over concerns it could facilitate the flow of U.S. tax subsidies to China and leave Ford dependent on Chinese technology.
On Monday, Ford said it paused work on the Michigan battery plant, citing concerns about its ability to operate it competitively as it remains in broader contract negotiations, drawing condemnation from the United Auto Workers union.
The lawmakers want documents including the Ford/CATL licensing agreement, communications between Ford and the Biden Administration referring to the licensing agreement and achievable tax credits, and records of Ford’s knowledge of CATL’s “apparent attempt to shield its connection to Xinjiang-based companies.”
Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur inhabitants, including the mass use of forced labor in internment camps. China denies the allegations.
CATL did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The lawmakers said if Ford does not disclose records sought previously by Oct. 6 “we will consider other means to obtain the documents, including compulsory process or insisting that you appear before Congress to publicly explain your failure to comply.”
A Ford spokeswoman said the company had answered multiple congressional letters and “thoroughly responded to questions and shared detailed information about Ford’s work to strengthen domestic battery manufacturing” but did not say if the company would comply with the document request.
In 2022, Congress passed legislation barring $7,500 in future consumer EV tax credits if any battery components are manufactured or assembled by a “foreign entity of concern.”
Ford has been awaiting guidance to determine if batteries produced by the Marshall plant would run afoul of the requirements.
Last week, Tesla Elon Musk also faced questions from Smith about the automaker’s relationship with CATL.

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Mitsubishi Motors to end light-vehicle output in China, report says

TOKYO — Mitsubishi Motors has decided to end automobile production in China, and is discussing its exit with local joint venture partner Guangzhou Automobile Group, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday, without citing sources.
GAC will likely convert the plant, in Hunan province, to a production base for electric vehicles, the paper said.
Mitsubishi Motors said talks about the future of its China business with the shareholders in the joint venture in the country were ongoing and that nothing had been decided about it.
The JV, known as GAC Mitsubishi Motors, was launched by GAC, Mitsubishi Motors and trading house Mitsubishi Corp. in 2012, focusing on SUV sales in China.
The venture said in July it would cut staff and costs in a bid to revitalize the operation, after it stopped producing the carmaker’s Outlander crossover following weak sales just months after its launch in December.
Mitsubishi Motors in April said it would take a $78-million charge for slowing sales at the venture. The automaker sold just under 32,000 vehicles in China last year, down about 50 percent from 2021.
Mitsubishi Corp. gave the same statement as Mitsubishi Motors.

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Kia, Hyundai recall more than 3 million vehicles for engine fire risk

WASHINGTON — Kia America and Hyundai Motor America are recalling more than 3 million vehicles in the U.S. for separate issues that could cause an engine compartment fire. Both automakers are urging vehicle owners to park outside and away from structures until repairs are completed.The Kia recall covers the following vehicles: 2010-19 Borrego; 2014-16 Cadenza; 2010-13 Forte, Forte Koup and Sportage; 2015-18 K900; 2011-15 Optima; 2011-13 Optima Hybrid and Soul; 2012-17 Rio; 2011-14 Sorento; and 2010-11 Rondo. The recall affects about 1.7 million vehicles for an issue with the hydraulic electronic control unit, or HECU, that could cause an electrical short, which can trigger an engine compartment fire while parked or driving. Kia told NHTSA it was not aware of any injuries, crashes or deaths. A spokesperson for the automaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.To fix the issue, dealers will replace the HECU fuse. Korean auto supplier Mando makes the HECU, according to a recall report submitted Sept. 25 to NHTSA.Dealers will be notified on Nov. 10. Vehicle owners will be notified starting Nov. 14.

Hyundai, Kia’s Korean sibling company, is recalling about 1.6 million vehicles in the U.S. for an issue with the antilock brake system module.The module could leak brake fluid internally and cause an electrical short, resulting in an engine compartment fire while parked or driving. The affected vehicles are the 2011-15 Elantra, Genesis Coupe and Sonata Hybrid; 2012-15 Accent, Azera and Veloster; 2013-15 Elantra Coupe and Santa Fe; 2014-15 Equus; 2010-12 Veracruz; 2010-13 Tucson; 2015 Tucson Fuel Cell; and 2013 Santa Fe Sport.Hyundai told NHTSA there have been 21 vehicle fires and 22 “thermal incidents,” such as smoking, melting or burning, in the U.S. based on reports received from June 15, 2017, through June 1, 2023.The automaker said there have been no crashes, injuries or deaths.A Hyundai spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mando also supplies the antilock brake system assembly, according to a recall report submitted Sept. 22 to NHTSA.To fix the issue, dealers will replace the antilock brake system fuse. Dealers and vehicle owners will be notified by Nov. 21.

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China shies away from confrontation with Europe over EV probe

As Europe’s top trade chief headed to Beijing this month shortly after announcing a probe into China’s electric-vehicle subsidies, some in the bloc braced for fiery criticism and any hint of retaliation.
Instead, the Europeans found President Xi Jinping’s government looking to talk, make promises and avoid aggressive rhetoric that could inflame an economic relationship worth $900 billion.
While Vice Premier He Lifeng expressed “concern and dissatisfaction” over the probe, he agreed to set up several working groups including on financial services and trade curbs.
Beijing’s careful managing of its ties with a top trading partner comes amid a broader push to stabilize relationships, as the world’s second-largest economy loses steam, deflating expectations it will overtake the U.S. as No. 1.
The economic slowdown and COVID-19 restrictions combined with persistent tensions with the West sparked a $188 billion exodus from Chinese stocks and bonds from a December-2021 peak through the end of this June.
China has hosted four cabinet-level White House officials in Beijing in recent months, and reestablished working groups with the U.S. ahead of a potential Xi meeting with President Joe Biden in November.
The Chinese leader on Tuesday pledged to promote “stable” relations with Italy, even as the nation plans to exit his signature Belt and Road Initiative.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, meanwhile, is likely to come to China soon in a sign of how much ties have improved from a nadir in 2020.
At that time, both sides were highly critical of each other, and China was tariffing and blocking Australian exports.
“Beijing is aware that it’s in desperate need of repairing its ties with the EU,” said Alicja Bachulska, policy fellow at European Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia Programme, citing the Asian nation’s “increasingly protectionist and security-focused” economic policies.
“That is why its rhetoric was relatively mild.”
When Europe announced the probe into subsidies for electric vehicles earlier this month, Beijing initially blasted that move a “naked act of protectionism.”
That sparked concerns in Europe that China had over-reacted and could trigger a trade war, according to European officials who asked not to be named.
China did not publicly repeat that criticism during Valdis Dombrovskis’ four-day trip to the country.
Instead, he was the one who delivered the strongest language — blasting China’s stance on the war in Ukraine as a liability for its image as a good investment destination, and threatening to be more “assertive” about rectifying a yawning trade imbalance.Dombrovskis had reason to feel confident. Xi has struggled for years to find a response to U.S. sanctions, tariffs and export controls that makes his nation look tough without scaring off foreign companies.
Beijing responded to then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade curbs with its own “unreliable entities” list, but only used the tool for the first time in February this year — on two U.S. defense firms with limited business in China.  
In July, Beijing imposed export restrictions on two niche metals, gallium and germanium, that are critical for electric cars and chips, in its most meaningful retaliation to US and European trade curbs.
That sparked concerns about short-term disruptions to supply chains, and fears that a more serious trade war with Beijing could undermine the EU’s green ambitions.
The Chinese Commerce Ministry in Beijing, however, this month said it had already approved some companies to ship those products overseas.
That came after reports China’s exports of the metals had plunged, at a moment where the economy is being hurt by slowing demand for its overseas shipments.
Any retaliation to Europe could undermine the Communist Party’s charm offensive to woo foreign investors exiting the nation.Cross-border flows of direct investment into and out of China have slipped to the worst deficit in seven years.
In August, a major EU business group warned that foreign firms in China are suffering from “promise fatigue.”
While Xi’s government has pledged in the past year to step up help for private firms and treat them on par with state-owned ones, overseas companies have not seen a ton of tangible progress on much-desired reforms, according to the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
China needs foreign capital and knowledge “for its own modernization program,” said Peter Hefele, policy director focused on China at the Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies. “Next to the U.S., Europe is the only region to acquire those critical factors.”
“It is no secret that the EU is an important economic partner for China, both as market for exports and as investor in the Chinese market,” said Francesca Ghiretti, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies research firm.
Europe’s value to China was laid bare last year when the bloc’s trade deficit with Beijing for goods reached more than $400 billion. Dombrovskis said the huge spike in recent years had prompted cause for scrutiny.
The EU unveiled a new economic security strategy earlier this year seeking oversight of critical technology exports, a signal the bloc is edging closer to Washington’s approach toward Beijing.
The U.S. has imposed a slew of trade curbs on China to hold back Beijing’s military development as tensions flare over Xi’s territorial ambitions toward the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
“There is no doubt the EU is being more assertive,” said André Sapir, senior fellow at Bruegel and former economic adviser to former EU President Romano Prodi.
He pointed to the announcement of the EV probe as a symbol of that, having been delivered by von der Leyen in her state of the union address.
“It’s partly to send a message to the Chinese that we are toughening up.”

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CULA Selected by Northeast Credit Union for Indirect Vehicle Leasing

SAN DIEGO and PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Sept. 12, 2023 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Credit Union Leasing of America (CULA) has been selected by Northeast Credit Union to bring its indirect vehicle leasing program to credit union members in New Hampshire and Maine. With this partnership, Portsmouth-based Northeast Credit Union, which has over two billion dollars in assets, is expanding its auto finance portfolio to include the affordability and flexibility of vehicle leasing as an option for its over 150,000 members.
“Skyrocketing vehicle prices in an inflationary environment continue to be an issue for our members who need to purchase a car,” said Douglas Sites, Vice President Indirect/Direct Lending of Northeast Credit Union. “CULA’s program means that we are able to extend the benefits of vehicle leasing – lower monthly payments, shorter-term commitments – to our community while further diversifying our offerings. In addition, our valued dealer partners now have access to a more complete lending solution, enhancing impact in today’s competitive market.”
In a recent survey of credit unions, conducted by CULA, the majority of respondents said that they would like an alternative to long-term vehicle loans for their customers, such as short-term financing with affordable payments and higher yield. Vehicle leasing offers all of these benefits. By handling the intricacies of leasing for its clients – including analytics, insurance, operations, compliance and more – CULA enables credit unions to easily add leasing to their portfolios and dealers to offer their customers more finance options, especially as affordability becomes their main concern.
“As we continue to expand across the US, we are fortunate to partner with Northeast Credit Union, an established and leading indirect lender in New Hampshire and Maine. We are proud to support their long legacy of commitment to doing the right thing for their community through their philanthropic efforts and by enabling their members to reap the many advantages vehicle leasing provides,” said Mark Chandler.
Chandler noted that CULA’s partnership with Origence, formerly CUDL, has been a key component in this new alliance with Northeast Credit Union. “We are grateful for our relationship with Origence in establishing this partnership, and to Jeff Kane, Director, Client Experience, Origence, for bringing us together,” added Chandler.
CULA, which experienced record growth in the last two years, has been the leader in indirect vehicle leasing for credit unions for over 30 years. The company offers an analytically driven, high-value leasing program and partners with the industry’s most innovative credit unions, including nine of the top 10 credit unions offering leasing in the US. CULA originated 64,000 leases through its credit union partners in 2022, up from 50,000 in 2021. In addition, the company is now originating loans in nine more states, added nine credit unions, and increased the number of participating auto dealers by 42%.

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Equifax, Experian and TransUnion Support U.S. Consumers With Ongoing Availability of Free Weekly Credit Reports

The three Nationwide Credit Reporting Agencies (NCRAs) – TransUnion (NYSE:TRU), Equifax® (NYSE:EFX),  and Experian (LON:EXPN) – are reinforcing their commitment to the financial health of U.S. consumers with the ongoing availability of free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com. This free service was first introduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to help consumers protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by the public health emergency. It has been permanently extended by the NCRAs to empower consumers to more regularly review their credit history and better understand their financial data.
The companies’ CEOs provided a statement on the availability of free weekly credit reports: “We maintain a shared commitment to building consumers’ financial capabilities and are dedicated to helping increase financial access for people across the United States,” said Chris Cartwright, CEO TransUnion; Mark W. Begor, CEO Equifax; and Brian Cassin, CEO Experian. “The ongoing availability of free weekly credit reports is another way that our industry is supporting consumers as they make financial decisions. We recognize the important role that credit reports play in people’s financial lives and encourage consumers to regularly check their credit history – an important way of understanding their current credit position and preparing for important future financial milestones.”
Consumer credit reports are a factual record of credit activity and payment history used by lenders, creditors, service providers and other businesses to extend financial opportunities and other offers to people. Consumers can access their free credit reports each week from each of the three credit reporting agencies at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Consumers should review all items appearing in each section of their credit reports. If an error is identified, consumers should contact the credit reporting agency immediately to correct that information.
 For more information, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

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CFPB Issues Guidance on Credit Denials by Lenders Using Artificial Intelligence

SEP 19, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued guidance about certain legal requirements that lenders must adhere to when using artificial intelligence and other complex models. The guidance describes how lenders must use specific and accurate reasons when taking adverse actions against consumers. This means that creditors cannot simply use CFPB sample adverse action forms and checklists if they do not reflect the actual reason for the denial of credit or a change of credit conditions. This requirement is especially important with the growth of advanced algorithms and personal consumer data in credit underwriting. Explaining the reasons for adverse actions help improve consumers’ chances for future credit, and protect consumers from illegal discrimination.
“Technology marketed as artificial intelligence is expanding the data used for lending decisions, and also growing the list of potential reasons for why credit is denied,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “Creditors must be able to specifically explain their reasons for denial. There is no special exemption for artificial intelligence.”
In today’s marketplace, creditors are increasingly using complex algorithms, marketed as artificial intelligence, and other predictive decision-making technologies in their underwriting models. Creditors often feed these complex algorithms with large datasets, sometimes including data that may be harvested from consumer surveillance. As a result, a consumer may be denied credit for reasons they may not consider particularly relevant to their finances. Despite the potentially expansive list of reasons for adverse credit actions, some creditors may inappropriately rely on a checklist of reasons provided in CFPB sample forms. However, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act does not allow creditors to simply conduct check-the-box exercises when delivering notices of adverse action if doing so fails to accurately inform consumers why adverse actions were taken.
In fact, the CFPB confirmed in a circular from last year that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires creditors to explain the specific reasons for taking adverse actions. This requirement remains even if those companies use complex algorithms and black-box credit models that make it difficult to identify those reasons. Today’s guidance expands on last year’s circular by explaining that sample adverse action checklists should not be considered exhaustive, nor do they automatically cover a creditor’s legal requirements.
Specifically, today’s guidance explains that even for adverse decisions made by complex algorithms, creditors must provide accurate and specific reasons. Generally, creditors cannot state the reasons for adverse actions by pointing to a broad bucket. For instance, if a creditor decides to lower the limit on a consumer’s credit line based on behavioral spending data, the explanation would likely need to provide more details about the specific negative behaviors that led to the reduction beyond a general reason like “purchasing history.”
Creditors that simply select the closest factors from the checklist of sample reasons are not in compliance with the law if those reasons do not sufficiently reflect the actual reason for the action taken. Creditors must disclose the specific reasons, even if consumers may be surprised, upset, or angered to learn their credit applications were being graded on data that may not intuitively relate to their finances.
In addition to today’s and last year’s circulars, the CFPB has issued an advisory opinion that consumer financial protection law requires lenders to provide adverse action notices to borrowers when changes are made to their existing credit.
The CFPB has made the intersection of fair lending and technology a priority. For instance, as the demand for digital, algorithmic scoring of prospective tenants has increased among corporate landlords, the CFPB reminded landlords that prospective tenants must receive adverse action notices when denied housing. The CFPB also has joined with other federal agencies to issue a proposed rule on automated valuation models, and is actively working to ensure that black-box models do not lead to acts of digital redlining in the mortgage market.
Read Consumer Financial Protection Circular 2023-03, Adverse action notification requirements and the proper use of the CFPB’s sample forms provided in Regulation B. [https://www.consumerfinance.gov/compliance/circulars/circular-2023-03-adverse-action-notification-requirements-and-the-proper-use-of-the-cfpbs-sample-forms-provided-in-regulation-b/]
Consumers can submit complaints about financial products and services by visiting the CFPB’s website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
Employees who believe their companies have violated federal consumer financial protection laws are encouraged to send information about what they know to [email protected]. Workers in technical fields, including those that design, develop, and implement artificial intelligence, may also report potential misconduct to the CFPB. To learn more, visit the CFPB’s website.

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Amid mergers and lawsuits, it's ‘winner take most' for lidar companies

It is not an easy time to be a lidar company.
Money is tight. Patent infringement claims and expensive litigation have created a terrain littered with legal land mines. And companies are under pressure to shrink their sensors’ size and power consumption, boost their range, and slash prices while scaling production — or risk a competitor doing it first.
Mergers and acquisitions have consolidated the industry, and analysts and company leaders project there will be more.
“There’s literally billions of dollars, if not tens of billions or hundreds of billions of dollars, of opportunity for the lidar players in the space to go and capture in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Angus Pacala, CEO of Ouster Inc., a San Francisco lidar company. “There’s high stakes because it’s winner take most.”
But that huge market opportunity is dependent on lowering the cost of lidar technology. Lidar isn’t widely used in advanced driver-assistance systems yet but is expected to become a crucial component as the capability of the systems expands and prices drop.

Pairings such as Innoviz Technologies Ltd. and BMW, Luminar Technologies and Volvo Cars, Ouster and Motional, and others have showcased new driver-assist and automated technology power couples — and cemented some long-term relationships, securing future revenue and boosting adoption of lidar systems across a wider range of vehicles.Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a type of sensor that uses lasers to generate a rendering of the world and detect obstacles. It is used in automotive, agriculture and mapping, among other industries. Along with radar and cameras, it is one of the key sensors that allows for autonomous functions in cars and trucks.
After years of working on Level 4 automated systems, which enable autonomous driving but only under certain conditions, many automakers are redirecting their energy toward less complex Levels 2 and 3. At those levels, as defined by SAE International, humans are still required. This shift is the equivalent of returning to the tennis ball machine after playing Serena Williams. But legal, regulatory and safety quandaries remain with Level 3, including how quickly a human can retake control of the vehicle and where liability lies in the event of a crash.

Automakers are outsourcing a hugely expensive and complex technology to manufacturing partners. As an added benefit, those companies can be sure that their lidar technology is competitive, rather than being developed in a silo in-house. “This is the most exciting year,” said David Li, CEO of Hesai Group, a lidar company. “This is the year some of us have made it.”

The industry saw a rash of lidar companies go public through special purpose acquisition companies in 2020 and 2021. The roster includes Aeva Technologies Inc., AEye Inc., Cepton Inc., Innoviz, Luminar, Ouster, Quanergy Systems and Velodyne Lidar. Some of these reached stock market valuations in the billions of dollars. The market valued Quanergy, for example, at $1.4 billion when its SPAC deal was announced in 2021. Just 10 months after it went public in 2022, it filed for bankruptcy protection. The space has also been marked by cannibalism and infighting.In 2019, Velodyne filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Hesai and RoboSense, alleging that the companies were importing and selling lidar devices that infringed upon Velodyne’s patented technology. The companies ultimately settled. Hesai agreed to a one-time payment and annual royalties to Velodyne through 2030, and Velodyne and Hesai formed a patent cross-licensing agreement.From 2021 to 2023, Ouster acquired Sense Photonics in an all-stock deal valued at roughly $68 million, Velodyne filed another trade commission patent infringement complaint, this time against Ouster, and Velodyne and Ouster merged. Megan Kathman, a spokesperson for Ouster, said the complaint was unrelated to the merger.

Now, Ouster and Hesai are locked in a patent dispute, complicated by the settlement agreement Hesai has with Velodyne, which is now a part of Ouster.All of this braided conflict has costs, literally and figuratively. Hesai spent more than $20 million on litigation settlement expenses in 2019, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The price for the Velodyne merger was $306.6 million, according to Ouster’s most recent quarterly SEC filing.”As the wider ADAS market has become a bit harder and a bit tougher,” companies “had to then shrink down and start acquisitions and mergers,” said Ewan Laidlaw, a consultant at TPP, a technology and product development company. Companies “also realized this is a long game. This isn’t something where a load of lidar sensor manufacturers can all keep afloat at exactly the same time.”

As companies pay out for lawsuits and mergers, they are facing intense pressure to drop prices while keeping revenue up.Not only are lidar companies facing competition from one another, they are facing off against camera and radar systems, which cost as little as $100 or less per unit, said Pacala, of Ouster. If lidar sensors are still “$100,000 each, which used to be the case, it isn’t for everyone. Then I would say it’s useless, right? It’s a rich people’s toy,” said Li, of Hesai. “But if you can make it below $1,000, that’s something people will consider as additional safety to greatly reduce the chances of crashing.”Hesai says it has shipped more than 100,000 lidar units at below $1,000 per sensor this year, and Ouster shipped more than 3,000 sensors in the second quarter for an average price of $6,300. Pacala said Ouster is working on a low-cost digital flash lidar sensor that “can hit low $100 price points,” and he stressed that the company has a diversified revenue profile, as it sells lidar to other industries.A Luminar spokesperson declined to provide the current cost per sensor or the number of units shipped but said the company is targeting a price of about $1,000 per sensor by 2025 and a production capacity of 250,000 units by the end of this year. At the same time, even the most stable companies have limited cash reserves. As of their last quarterly SEC filings, using cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash, Ouster had about six months’ worth of cash left, and Luminar, which said its cash burn was caused by “getting our high volume manufacturing facility online before we have generated material revenue from that facility,” had roughly four.Hesai which files different quarterly metrics to the SEC because of its status as a foreign private issuer, had nearly 16 months of cash left at the end of 2022. Hesai said that its position has improved significantly since then, with its cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash adding up to nearly $285 million in the second quarter compared with about $133 million at the end of last year.

The patent disputes and the push for lower prices and scalability are converging just as automakers form new partnerships and lock down existing tie-ups.While automakers are turning renewed focus to Level 2 and Level 3 automation, they are still engaged in fully autonomous vehicle development, sometimes partnering with lidar companies. In May, for example, Ouster announced it would be the exclusive provider of long-range lidar systems for Motional, a robotaxi joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv.But Level 4 “hasn’t taken off and reached a sense of scale that I think everybody thought” it would “six or eight years ago,” said Colm Boran, a former chief engineer of advanced driver-assist systems at Ford Motor Co. So automakers decided, “rather than trying to shoot for the moon, maybe we can still do something that’s very effective and pleasing for our customers with a little bit more limited target in mind.”In February, Luminar and Mercedes-Benz expanded their partnership to include Luminar’s Iris lidar in vehicles to scale Mercedes’ Level 3 system. In April, Luminar announced its lidar will be standard on all of Volvo’s EX90 vehicles in China.Innoviz and BMW are developing lidar to underpin Level 3 functions, and the pair announced a new phase of development in August. Innoviz is also fulfilling a contract it won last year to supply lidar to Volkswagen.

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What are the SAE Levels of Driving Automation?

The SAE Levels of Driving Automation describe the capabilities of automated driving systems. After years of working on Level 4 automation, many automakers are redirecting their energy toward Levels 2 and 3 in passenger vehicle applications. Here are the levels and examples of their use.
Level 0: A human is driving at all times. Features are limited to warnings and momentary active assistance, such as automated emergency braking.
Level 1: A human is driving at all times. Features support steering, braking or throttle inputs. Adaptive cruise control is an example.
Level 2: A human is responsible for driving, even if the system is sustaining active control of the vehicle. Features provide steering and throttle control, such as lane-centering and adaptive cruise control, at the same time. General Motors’ Super Cruise system and Tesla’s Autopilot are in this category.

Level 3: An automated system drives when engaged in a specific area, such as a highway. The human is not considered the driver but must take over when the system requests they do so. Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot is an example.
Level 4: An automated system drives, and a human has no role in the driving process. These systems may operate in specific conditions and limited areas. No vehicles with these types of systems are for sale to consumers. Waymo and Cruise have deployed and commercialized robotaxi services, which are considered Level 4.
Level 5: The same as Level 4, except these vehicles can drive everywhere in all conditions. This level is not commercially available.

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