Luminar adds influx of auto veterans, opens Detroit office

Luminar is adding five executives with automotive industry experience to its ranks at a time when the tech startup is preparing to manufacture lidar units at scale in series production.

Among the new executives is CFO Tom Fennimore. He was global head of automotive for Goldman Sachs and Jeffries Group and led companies such as Tesla and Mobileye through initial public offerings and other significant deals.

His arrival comes at a time when Luminar intends to scale its technology into series production, with its first major intentions to make lidar for Volvo Group in 2022. Luminar also plans to begin shipping its Iris sensing-and-perception platform within the year.

Some of the new hires will work in the company’s newly established office in Detroit, which joins Silicon Valley and Orlando, Fla., as locations where the company has on-the-ground operations.

“We’ve been rapidly evolving from a tech development company working with R&D programs to now the first company enabling autonomous in automotive series production,” Luminar CEO Austin Russell said in a statement. “There is no precedent or playbook for what we’re building, so having the best strategic minds to solve complex problems and execute solutions is paramount to our long-term success.”

Almost every company developing self-driving technology agrees lidar is a key sensor for helping systems develop a detailed and comprehensive portrait of the road environment and detecting obstacles.

Luminar may be the first to produce lidar for fully autonomous vehicles. Valeo was the first supplier to put lidar into automotive production, providing hardware for Audi A8s that were part of the brand’s Traffic Jam Pilot, a Level 3 system that — for reasons beyond lidar — Audi never activated and has since backpedaled from deploying.

Others joining Luminar include Matthew Simoncini, former CEO at Lear Corp., as a board member. Former ZF driver-assist system executive Marc Losewitz will be Luminar’s vice president of business development for automotive. Another ZF executive, Aaron Jefferson, will be Luminar’s vice president of product. Those three will work in the Detroit office, along with other employees based in the Motor City.

Mobileye veteran Jason Rudd joins Luminar as head of business development in Europe, where he will be stationed.

Collectively, the push toward series production helps differentiate Luminar — well funded with $250 million, per Crunchbase records — from most of the dozens of other lidar companies that have sprung up seeking series-production contracts with automakers.

Beyond lidar, other companies developing sensor technologies are making similar moves. This week, ground-penetrating radar startup WaveSense added Joe Hinrichs, former Ford Motor Co. president, to its board of directors. Two other industry veterans, former General Motors CFO Chuck Stevens and former Continental Chief Technology Officer Kurt Lehmann, have been appointed to WaveSense’s advisory board.

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