Luminar CEO: Rivian IPO shows 'the level of disruption happening in this industry'

Luminar CEO Austin Russell joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the future of autonomous vehicles, their Nvidia partnership, and how the Rivian IPO displays driven interest in EV and autonomous vehicle markets.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: The big winds are piling up at Lidar maker, Luminar. Most recently, one notable deal with surging chip seller, Nvidia, these deals are overshadowing the company's earnings out last night. So let's dive in here with Luminar founder and CEO, Austin Russell. Austin, always good to see you. Happy Friday to you.

One thing that we haven't talked about-- we've been talking to you, really, since you had the IPO late last year-- is an emerging truck strategy. You talked a little bit about this on the earnings call last night-- what are your plans in the truck market and how might they unfold next year?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, so huge believer in the autonomous trucking market. I think there's definitely a major opportunity there, and this is something that we've been heavily capitalizing. You know, we just had a couple of great wins with you know two of the top autonomous trucking players you know, just in this past quarter. So that's only been accelerating, for that matter.

But I think as we face global supply chain, logistics challenges, all the more important. But I mean, compounding on that, we're talking a number of other wins-- Nvidia, Polestar, Webasto, and Alfa. And seeing Mobileye launch their car was fantastic too. So there's-- there's no shortage of traction and certainly exceeded our expectation. And that's why we also had to had raised the guidance for the commercial wins. And everything else has otherwise been in line for meeting our key milestones and meeting or beating all of them that we had outlined on the call.

JULIE HYMAN: And Austin, it does look like that the revenue missed by a little bit, but it sounds like from what you're saying that most of that's going to be pushed forward in terms of-- of revenue gains?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Right, right. So we don't provide quarterly guidance for-- for specifics on revenue. We do yearly. So we remain fully on track for the raised guidance that we had for the year. And for that matter, it was actually directly in line with the internal estimated forecast that we had. But yes-- so that's fully on track and fully to expectation with what we're going for. But at the same time, I think the reality is that for things like financials and revenues and other stuff at this stage, it's more of just about programs that you're working with today.

The real-- the serious numbers that you're talking about are after you start scaling up in series production. And that's really the significance of the wins that we've had-- is that we're really the first and only company to actually be able to enable autonomous vehicles in new series production, enabling that level of capability. And-- and that's part of what we're launching with our start up production before the end of next year. So it'll be great to see that happen, and with some of these wins, it's good. And with things like the Nvidia win they announced just a couple of days ago, that's only accelerating that as well.

- And Austin, so you talked about those serious numbers-- or when you get to that scaled production, when do you really expect that to be reflected in some of Luminar's top line numbers here?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, I mean, I really think by 2023, that's when it starts really accelerating with all this. We've landed some of the biggest deals in the industry and certainly, the biggest of their kind, like say, standardizing on Volvo vehicles to be able to actually get out there. Now having new vehicles rolling off the line with Luminar embedded into it as a default safety standard, it really makes all the difference.

But-- but you know, we're continuing to see huge compounding effects. The Nvidia news that we had is going to be launching in 2024 as it's already getting designed into automakers and programs. So that's-- that's been super exciting.

But yeah, I mean, the great thing about this space is that, you know, it's very high barrier to entry, but equivalently very high barrier to exit. So these design ones make all the difference. And that's what we've been dominating in the larger landscape.

BRIAN SOZZI: Austin, this Rivian IPO has captivated a lot of folks on the street, to say the very least. Is part of the optimism with Rivian, Polestar, all you've include in there-- is that enthusiasm reflect the reality that maybe 10 years from now, we're not driving cars, they're just driving by themselves, and we're all going to need new cars and a whole lot of them?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah. Yeah, well, I mean the Rivian IPOs definitely interesting. It's awesome to see the success there too, and I think it just goes to show the level of disruption that's happening in this industry and the opportunity that-- that everyone has ahead. So you know, I think obviously, when it comes down to it, there's a lot left to be able to deliver in those cases. And you know, I mean, we've largely-- the focus for us has largely been on the big more legacy automakers when it comes down to it, just because that's where the high volume is right now. I mean, as it stands today, we get paid the same amount, whether it goes on-- regardless of what brand of vehicle it goes on. So you want to go over the ones that have to have the biggest opportunities.

But that said, you know, I think it's pretty promising. And when it comes down to it, it really just feeds into that broader thematic of-- of the level of interest of what can be done. And I think it's super exciting, to say. I think-- and I mean, with the interest for that. And even just like, when you have these kinds of news announcements, like with Nvidia, I think actually, our team maybe-- maybe heard from you Brian, that LAZR ticker was the most searched or trending that morning at that time, which was kind of wild ride.

BRIAN SOZZI: You got that right. I did email you guys, that's correct.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, pretty cool.

- And Austin, you alluded to this earlier in one of your answers, but how have supply chain disruptions and shortages impacted your company and your manufacturing partners? And has that changed any of your timelines?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, so actually, one of the big milestones that we had and that we are announcing this quarter is that we have successfully secured the supply chain for next year. And basically going through that process, leading up to series production, that's a really important point. We've put all the infrastructure into place, and fortunately, we have something that we have a lot of visibility on going years out. We're not we're not a traditional OEM in the sense that we have that day-to-day grind. We can actually focus on-- like, our day-to-day grind is focusing on launching these kinds of next generation capabilities, and that's what makes all the difference.

And we've made some strategic acquisitions along the way to be able to secure critical parts of the supply chain. Most recently, we've successfully integrated this acquisition called OptoGration. They make this specialized indium gallium arsenide chip that we use in our product and are continuing to iterate on. And that's something that we can scale up to a million plus units a year when it comes down to it with this capacity.

So that's what makes all the difference. And having that ownership around it absolutely secures and guarantees our future, at least for some of the most challenging components around it. And we're feeling pretty good.

JULIE HYMAN: Hey, Austin, you know, we've talked to you a bunch of times now. I think you've been a public company for a little over four months, if I-- if I have that right.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: It's been-- it was end of last year. So--

JULIE HYMAN: End of last year. Excuse me, excuse me-- 11 months, 11 months-- it does. So if we're looking at that timeline, you're a young guy, you're in your mid-20s, you're running this buzzy company. I'm just curious, how-- how are you feeling? Like what are the lessons you've learned? And also, as we look at to again, bring up Rivian, I mean, there's another young guy running a very buzzy company. Given what you have learned thus far-- I don't know if you know RJ Scaringe or if you guys talk, but you know, what kind of advice you would give them now having run a public company for a bit?

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Yeah, I'll have to-- I'll have to meet him in person sometime soon too. It's-- it's cool. But I think when it comes down to it, obviously I was fortunate enough to get a head start with-- with all of this and-- at a pretty early age. And this is where I think you just have to be able to stay heads down, focused, and strategize around how you want to build and scale of business from an entrepreneurial perspective.

And I mean, I think in this case, obviously had a lot of conviction in terms of what the right approach is. You'll always have your skeptics along the way. You always have different folks saying, OK, can you really pull this off, you know, this sounds crazy. And you know, can you really try and compete with some of the biggest companies in the world that are trying to do these kinds of things.

And I think that-- that clear answer that resonated is yes. And now our opportunity ahead is not just to compete, but to win. And that's exactly what we've been doing along the way. So I'd say yeah, have a great time with it. I mean, in terms of lessons, I mean, obviously, number one is-- or maybe not obviously-- I think a lot of people can take cues from this-- is focus. If you have the tech, you really believe in it, at least in this industry, you have to be able to focus on execution, focus on delivering, focus on scaling, and not-- not drown yourself out with-- with too much.

And this is a really important point in terms of why we started with the foundation of this breakthrough ladder. It took-- you know, this stuff doesn't happen overnight. It's taken almost a decade to be able to get to this stage, to get to where we are, and to be able to see the scale up. So we think that's-- that's what makes all the difference.

And then yeah, I mean, from like, a market perspective that was one of the things that it learns-- is that you know, it's-- it's almost interesting to see from-- you can never use that as a fundamental metric of value of everything that you're doing or what-- what you're doing and whatnot. I mean, I'd say it's a great long-term indicator. It's not a great short-term indicator with that. So it's amazing to me to see how like, efficient or inefficient different markets can be in different cases.

And also, from a fundamental value proposition perspective, just the opportunity-- like, that if you execute, if you deliver, if you can do this, you know, that's how you see the amazing 10x, 100x growth stories. And you know, to folks like Tesla's credit and even Rivian now too-- you know, they've been following that trajectory.

BRIAN SOZZI: Austin, before we let you go here, you're going to be presenting at CES. You want to unveil everything to us right now, by the way.

AUSTIN RUSSELL: Exactly. We got-- we're going to have a lot going on. So yeah, if any of you guys are planning on going to CES, it'll be a cool show. We're going to have some interactive demos, I think, unlike anything that's been presented at that show or anywhere.

BRIAN SOZZI: OK, had to ask. Thanks as always for answering our emails. Luminar founder and CEO, Austin Russell. Have a great weekend.

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