24 May 2023
Chinese lidar firm boasts that it is 'outpacing the competition', and now manufacturing more than one sensor every minute.
Hesai Group, the China-headquartered automotive lidar company that raised $190 million in an initial public offering of stock earlier this year, claims its latest results show that it is outpacing its rivals in the highly competitive sector.
Revenues of RMB 430 million ($63 million) for the opening three months of 2023 - corresponding to the sale of just under 35,000 lidar units - were up 73 per cent year-on-year.
The Shanghai firm boasts that those numbers represent higher quarterly revenues and shipments than six rival US-listed peers combined.
Hesai’s management team also hailed the recent development of its new “ET25” in-cabin lidar sensor, which is designed to sit behind a car’s windshield to improve design aesthetics and aerodynamics while maintaining high performance - thanks to special high-transmittance windshield glass developed in a partnership with Fuyao Group.
Major robotaxi order
Discussing the latest results with investors, Hesai’s co-founder and CEO Yifan “David” Li said that the firm has recently signed its largest ever supply deal for lidar deployment in robotaxi applications, and described high levels of demand from the current plethora of Chinese electric vehicle (EV) makers.
“2023 will be a transformational year as we see increased interest from and collaboration with leading North American and European OEMs,” he predicted, also highlighting the company’s investment in its development and manufacturing sites known as “Maxwell” and “Hertz”.
Applications in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) currently account for around 80 per cent of the firm’s lidar shipments, with the remainder destined for autonomous mobility applications.
Li pointed out new platform wins with China’s Li Auto for its new EV, alongside similar deals with Jidu, a joint venture between Baidu and Geely Group, and new customer Seres, whose new cars will be equipped with Hesai’s VCSEL-based “AT128” lidar units.
The CEO explained that while the firm’s new “Maxwell” site in Shanghai will be focused on product development and integration, the highly automated “Hertz” location in Hangzhou was now up and running, and able to produce a lidar unit every 45 seconds.
Commenting on the ET25 development, Li noted that the novel windshield developed with Fuyao - China’s largest supplier of automotive glass - could improve transmission of the laser and return pulse by up to a factor of three compared with previous in-cabin designs.
Shown off at the recent Shanghai Auto Show, it is said to have attracted significant interest from global auto OEMs who want a miniature lidar to optimize aerodynamics and exterior design credentials without compromising performance.
Profits and patents
On the financial side, Hesai’s executive team was keen to highlight the firm’s relative profitability, compared with rival lidar vendors who continue to post heavy losses.
Although it delivered an operating loss of around $19 million in the latest quarter according to standard accounting rules, if expenses relating to IPO-related share-based compensation are excluded, Hesai now appears to be running at close to operating breakeven.
The firm’s latest balance sheet also indicates a healthy cash pile standing at just over $300 million.
On the negative side, Hesai is facing a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Ouster, the US company that merged with historic lidar leader Velodyne in February. Earlier this month, the US International Trade Commission (USITC) said it would "institute" an investigation into Ouster’s complaint.
Responding to Ouster’s claims last month, Hesai CEO Li stated: “We believe Ouster’s complaints are deeply flawed and lack merit. We invest heavily in proprietary research and development. We have more than 700 staff working in our R&D and manufacturing teams.
“We also regard our own trademarks, patents, domain names, trade secrets, proprietary technologies, and similar intellectual property as critical to our success.”