Tesla tests Luminar lidar sensor Elon Musk once scorned as ‘fool’s errand’

Tesla Inc., whose boss Elon Musk says he can develop a fully self-driving car without using laser-sensor technology, has a contract to use such sensors from Luminar Technologies Inc. for testing and development, according to people familiar with the matter.

A photo of a Tesla Model Y with a roof rack of lidar sensors posted to Twitter on Thursday stoked speculation that the companies were working together, sending Luminar’s shares up more than 10 percent that day. While similar images of Teslas with lidar sensors have popped up before on social media, it was unclear until now what the relationship is between Tesla and Luminar.

Luminar sold Tesla the sensors on that Model Y as part of an agreement between the companies, some of the people said, requesting anonymity because the information is private. In addition, Bloomberg News confirmed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles that the manufacturer’s license plate on the photographed vehicle belongs to Tesla. The same manufacturer’s plate has been spotted on other Tesla vehicles, including a prototype of the forthcoming Cybertruck.

Luminar shares rose in early trading Monday. A Luminar representative declined to comment. Multiple Tesla executives contacted by Bloomberg didn’t respond to a request for comment. Tesla has disbanded its media relations department.

The Model Y with the sensors was spotted in Palm Beach, Fla., around 8 a.m. Thursday by Grayson Brulte, a consultant to the autonomous-vehicle industry who lives in the area. The photos he posted to Twitter fanned market speculation that CEO Musk might be hedging his claim that he can develop a camera-only self-driving system, without the radar and laser sensors embraced by competitors.

Luminar’s shares pared a gain of as much as 9.8 percent to trade up 1.4 percent to $21.71 in late morning trading in New York. The stock had surged on May 20 to the highest level in more than three weeks and its ticker symbol, LAZR, was shared widely on Twitter in speculation that it had supplied the sensor suite.

Any suggestion that Musk would change course to adopt lidar is unrealistic, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst with Guidehouse Insights.

“The more likely scenario is they are using the Luminar lidars to validate their camera-based FSD system,” Abuelsamid said in an interview, using an acronym for full self-driving. “If they made that change, it would effectively deprecate their entire fleet of vehicles. They are not going to retrofit one million vehicles.”

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