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Mapping the Future of Autonomous Vehicles Goes Right Through a SPAC

NetworkNewsWire Editorial Coverage: Mainstream fully autonomous vehicles are not an if, they are a when. The bigger question is what it is going to take from a technical end to get self-driving cars and trucks safely maneuvering along every side street and highway. As one can imagine, the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month was once again a hotbed of activity featuring the future of autonomous vehicles. The opening keynote was presented by Mary Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors, detailing the automaker’s vision of GM leading the industry transformation underpinned by connectivity, electrification and autonomy. How the industry reaches that end is the subject of different business models, but it seems a safe bet that it will include a confluence of technologies, including the powers of LiDAR to make autonomous driving as commonplace as power windows and brakes.

GM has partnered with the LiDAR experts at Cepton Technologies, which plans to come public early this year via a highly anticipated SPAC merger with Growth Capital Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: GCAC) (Profile). Cepton is in the thick of the industry that provides investors exposure to autonomous vehicles through multiple avenues, having engagements with all of the top 10 auto manufacturers. This list includes GM, which has already chosen Cepton’s LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) for its Ultra Cruise; Ford Motors, with which Cepton already has a contract for Smart Cities; Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE: TM), which is one of the biggest shareholders of Cepton’s Tier 1 partner Koito; and forward-looking Stellantis N.V. (NYSE: STLA). Cepton may have the inside track on a few of these engagements, making it a potential excellent play on the evolution of the automobile and the driving experience. In addition, Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) is a part of this evolution, having partnered with GM for its Ultra Cruise and with Cepton on its Smart City Accelerator Program.

  • Cepton Technologies, a Silicon Valley company purpose built to mass produce next-generation LiDAR technology, is coming public via SPAC with a $1.50 billion valuation.
  • Cepton’s patented MMT(R) is redefining LiDAR technology with superior performance and increased reliability at a lower cost than the competing MEMS technology.
  • Cepton LiDAR’s compact design enables it to be safely placed behind the windshield requiring no design adaptation of the car body, a huge plus for OEM mass adoption across models.
  • Cepton is anticipating shipping more than 1 million units in 2025, generating revenue of $861 million (all listed LiDAR companies are compared basis their expected results in 2025).

LiDAR: Faster, Longer, Stronger

There is an ongoing debate in the autonomous driving world over which technologies will dominate, as some companies maintain a narrow focus with merely camera technology and others pack about every type of tech possible into autonomous cars. As it goes today, most companies are employing a mix of sonar and radar in their warning systems, with LiDAR technology being the new kid on the automotive block, which many believe to be superior to anything existing with respect to four tenets of the future of driverless cars: accuracy, speed, quality and range. The combination of all three imaging tools working in tandem via advanced software and AI, are indispensable in the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and AV (autonomous vehicles) world.

Originally developed by NASA to keep track of satellites and measure distances in space, LiDAR technology involves sensors emitting a succession of infrared light pulses. The tech has traveled from space to Earth to become integral to the automotive and other industries. Sensors on vehicles shoot infrared light around vehicles, where the pulses bounce off objects and return to the sensor where sophisticated calculations are made in a fraction of a second to measure the travel time of the light; hence, the name time-of-flight LiDAR. The result is a constantly updating 3D map of the road and the surrounding area that directs actions (i.e., stopping, turning, slowing, etc.) of an autonomous vehicle.

The global LiDAR market is booming to the tune of 22.7% compound annual growth, according to Fortune Business Insights. Growth is being fueld by autonomous driving and other applications that will result in the market size increasing from $1.32 billion in 2018 to $6.71 billion by 2026.

Growth Capital Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: GCAC) is a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) incorporated for the purpose of acquiring an operating company with an enterprise value in the range of $400 million to $1.5 billion. In the spring of 2021, an acquisition target was identified in Cepton Technologies, an upstart quickly building a reputation as a standout in LiDAR technology. More specifically, Cepton found itself in the headlines after forging an exclusive agreement with General Motors where Cepton tech will be used in GM’s acclaimed Ultra Cruise ADAS.

The proposed merger between Cepton and GCAC was announced on Aug. 5, 2021, and Wall Street is watching for the completion of the transaction early this quarter, which will make Cepton a public company trading on the NASDAQ under the ticker CPTN.

Founded less than six years ago, Cepton is a provider of high performance, mass-market LiDAR products to a variety of industries. The company has already launched innovative technology and built relationships with some of the biggest names in the automotive industry, including GM and Japan’s Koito Manufacturing, a global automotive lighting equipment giant. Koito has a significant interest in Cepton’s success after making a $50 million investment in the company. This is just a bit of name dropping for Cepton, who has more than 100 active customer projects in smart infrastructure/smart cities, engagements with all top-10 automotive original equipment manufacturers (“OEMs”) and more than 160 opportunities in its pipeline.

10x Bigger Than All Other Auto LiDAR Contracts Combined

In the simplest sense, LiDAR and its associated computing power serve as the eyes and brain of an autonomous vehicle. Obviously, engineers are facing incredible challenges as they work to replicate the speed and accuracy of a human brain to collect, process and respond to surrounding stimulus that is changing at 102 feet per second when traveling at 70 miles per hour. Broadly, market barriers revolve around performance, integration, reliability and costs.

Cepton kept all these obstacles in mind with its bespoke team and tech, developing a turnkey LiDAR solution platform using its patented Micro Motion Technology (“MMT”) for ADAS autonomous driving and smart infrastructure applications. MMT is Cepton innovation at work, replacing microscopic mirrors used in competitors’ micro-electro-mechanical-systems (“MEMS”) technology. The benefits of Cepton technology are both functional and economical, as the crystal-like materials provide superior performance and use less power all while costing less. Lower cost and less power consumption without sacrificing performance — perhaps improving it — are sweet spots for electric vehicle (“EV”) manufacturers where every effort is made to conserve battery power.

Cepton has proven the merits of its MMT technology in multiple instances, including developmental use in automated shuttles and now the pact with General Motors. The contract represents the biggest automotive industry LiDAR design win in history, topping the aggregate of all other auto LiDAR awards by a factor of approximately 10.

Per the design award, GM will be using Cepton LiDARs in up to nine different GM models that offer Ultra Cruise ADAS autonomous driving platform beginning next year with an initial contract length through 2027. GM is being touted by the company and analysts alike for accommodating hands-free driving on about 95% of all the roads in North America, compared to GM’s Super Cruise technology, which only allows hands-free driving on highways.

One Million Units on Tap

As Cepton’s first major production client, GM gets Silicon Valley-based Cepton moving in the right direction to meet its goal to be the world’s first LiDAR company to go mass market across multiple vehicle platforms. The Koito relationship paid strong dividends as the Tokyo-based company made the new GM contract possible. Cepton has provided a nonexclusive license to Koito to manufacture a version of Cepton’s MMT-based, Vista(R)-X90 automotive grade LiDAR, using key components and technologies from Cepton. These are the sensors that GM will be using in vehicles equipped with its ADAS platform.

“We founded Cepton in 2016 with an emphasis on ADAS and centered our LiDAR innovation around the goal of making LiDAR an essential automotive safety sensor in everyday passenger cars. We are now focused on delivering a safer and more enjoyable driving experience to consumers within the next few years,” said Cepton CEO and cofounder Dr. Jun Pei.

Owing to its robust properties and solid price point, Cepton anticipates strong market adoption from auto OEMs and others where LiDAR is becoming prominent. The company says it expects to ship more than one million of its LiDAR units in 2025 as momentum builds and a flywheel effect results, where the technology becomes embedded in different manufacturing infrastructures, which in turn fuels volume production and lower costs, which leads to more uptake and a repeat of the cycle.

The SPAC Terms

Growth Capital Acquisition Corp. is a SPAC with approximately $231 million of pro forma cash on the balance sheet, broken down into $172.5 million in cash and $58.5 million raised via a private investment in public entity (“PIPE”) anchored by the Koito investment. The SPAC was assembled with the purpose of targeting a company valued at up to $1.5 billion, and Cepton tracks essentially at that based upon these figures, which equate to a pro forma firm value of $1.50 billion. That’s roughly 1.8 times estimated 2025 revenue of $861 million.

Existing shareholders have the lion’s share (~85%) of the shareholding, while SPAC IPO and founder shares account for about 12% and PIPE investors make up the other 3%. Cepton currently employs 116 people, including 51 engineers and 21 PhDs focused on developing state-of-the-art, intelligent, LiDAR-based solutions for a range of markets, such as automotive, smart cities, smart spaces and smart industrial applications. The initial emphasis is on ADAS, the largest-end market for LiDAR.

Autonomous Vehicles in Sight

Safe to say that the world is speeding towards a day when roads feature more autonomous vehicles than those where a driver is facing forward intently gripping the steering wheel. The world is getting small doses of hands-free driving, but full autonomy is definitely in the cards eventually. Those that have read a report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute understand that the group is extremely bullish on the notion, calling for safe, reliable autonomous cars in as few as three years. It’s certainly imaginable that once the ball gets rolling, the acceleration will be at lighting speed, shepherded along by a diverse group of companies that are already headlong into the space.

Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) announced at CES 2022 its Snapdragon Ride Vision System, an expansion to the product portfolio featuring an open, scalable and modular computer vision software stack built on an industry-leading four-nanometer (4nm) processing node. The company also announced a collaboration to bring the latest advancements in driver assistance technologies along with products of its Snapdragon Ride Platform to BMW Group’s next generation of ADAS and automated driving (“AD”) platforms.

Toyota Motor Corporation’s (NYSE: TM) development philosophy for automated driving is the Mobility Teammate Concept (“MTC”), an approach built on the belief that people and vehicles can work together in the service of safe, convenient and efficient mobility. Rather than removing humans from any engagement with their mobility, MTC allows them to enjoy the freedom and joy of driving if they choose, while also benefiting from the capabilities of automated driving when they need or wish.

Stellantis N.V. (NYSE: STLA) is a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation formed in 2021 on the basis of a 50-50 cross-border merger between the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group. The company owns an iconic brand portfolio and had a presence at CES 2022 where demonstrations of its advanced electrification, cockpit technology, autonomy and connectivity displays provided tangible examples of Stellantis’ transition to a sustainable tech mobility company.

For Baby Boomers, self-driving cars seems like something straight out of the Jetsons, an idea will likely take some serious getting used to. For babies being born today, however, autonomous vehicles will be like the internet for Gen Xers. They will look to the older generations and wonder how the world ever functioned without them.

For more information about Growth Capital Acquisition Corp., please visit Growth Capital Acquisition Corp.

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