China's SAIC partners with U.S. lidar maker Luminar on self-driving cars

FILE PHOTO: SAIC Motor Corp's logos are pictured at its booth during the Auto China 2016 auto show in Beijing, China April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

(Reuters) - SAIC Motor Corp, China’s largest automaker, said Thursday it plans to begin offering self-driving vehicles in that market in 2022, in partnership with U.S. lidar maker Luminar Technologies.

Laser-based lidar sensors help detect objects ahead of and around the vehicle, and are a key component of many self-driving systems being developed by automakers and suppliers.

California-based Luminar in early March announced a deal with the self-driving software subsidiary of Volvo Cars, owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings, to offer a combination hardware-software system to other automakers.

Luminar, founded in 2012, is one of several U.S. lidar manufacturers in the past year to go public via reverse mergers with blank-check companies.

SAIC, which is partnered in China with General Motors Co (GM) and Volkswagen AG (VW), plans to install Luminar’s lidar sensors and software next year on its new R brand vehicle line and said it expects to standardize the equipment eventually across all its vehicles in China.

GM and VW are developing self-driving technology separately from SAIC - GM through its majority-owned Cruise subsidiary, VW in part with minority-owned Argo AI.

SAIC is an investor in Chinese lidar startup RoboSense, as well as other tech startups in the United States and China that are working on various aspects of self-driving vehicles.

Initially, SAIC’s R line vehicles will have self-driving capability on highways, as well as advanced driver assistance features, the company said. The vehicles also will have the ability over time to upgrade their self-driving capability through over-the-air software updates, the company said.

Luminar earlier inked lidar development deals with Daimler AG’s truck group and Intel Corp’s Mobileye. Luminar is also slated to supply lidar for Volvo’s first self-driving cars in 2022.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit. Editing by Mark Potter