DETROIT — Even if robotaxis prove to be over-hyped, Magna International Inc. expects to make money from the technology.
CEO Don Walker says the Aurora, Ontario, supplier is gearing up to produce the cameras, radar and lidar units needed for collision avoidance systems that automakers have begun installing in conventional vehicles.
Self-driving vehicles with Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy won't be sold in significant volume until 2025 or 2030, Walker says. But Level 2 or Level 3 vehicles — equipped with intelligent cruise control or autonomous emergency brakes — are available today.
"People are realizing that the big growth is in Level 2 and Level 3 autonomy," Walker said. "That's where the money is. … For the consumer, it's not that expensive. Consumers want it."
Walker, 62, discussed Magna's strategy for self- driving vehicles this month with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick at the Detroit auto show. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Is Magna making a profit on products for Level 2 and Level 3 autonomy?
A: We are very big in cameras — that's where we come from. We got some new cameras coming out, along with surround-view and the software to control them. That's probably our biggest growth area. Radar also is a growing segment, for sure. We have a new radar that we think will leapfrog the other technologies out there. We don't have a contract yet, but we're getting close.
What about lidar? Magna signed a contract with BMW to supply a solid-state lidar.
We want to be a leader in lidar, but it's a relatively small market. It's still too expensive. We think [the lidar for BMW] will be a benchmark for capability and lower cost, but it's still expensive. You don't need a lot of lidar until you get into Level 4 and Level 5.
Does each vehicle get four lidar units — perhaps at the corners?
Generally yes, but it depends on what the customer is trying to do.
How much does a lidar unit cost?
In the past we were talking about $1,000 per lidar, but we're substantially below that now.
What are the market prospects for fully autonomous vehicles?
Even by 2030, in our opinion, Level 5 vehicles will account for only 7 percent [of new-car sales]. Level 4 and Level 5 together will be maybe 30 percent of the market. People are realizing that the big growth is in Level 2 and Level 3. That's where the money is.
Do Level 2 and Level 3 vehicles provide the biggest safety benefits?
Yeah. For the consumer, it's not that expensive. Consumers want it. I think there's a lot of hype around Level 4 and Level 5. There will be a few winners, but with the number of companies in this market, there will be some fallout.
Last March, Magna announced a partnership with Lyft, which is developing robotaxis. How does Magna benefit?
We were making products for vehicles with Level 2 and Level 3 autonomy, but Level 4 and Level 5 require a different set of skills. We wanted to be in that space, but we didn't want to spend all that money.
So Magna will provide the sensors, while Lyft will share its test data and software for self-driving vehicles?
Yeah. We can learn about Level 4 and 5. We get access to their data. We can bring that knowledge back. We can utilize it to build our business for Level 2 and Level 3 technology.
Why did Magna buy a $200 million stake in Lyft even though you don't expect volume production of fully autonomous vehicles anytime soon?
For companies willing to spend money to take the driver out — like the ride-sharing companies — it makes sense. We wanted to hook up with one of the leading ride-sharing companies that really has the motivation to get this technology right.
Bosch, Continental and ZF are developing self-driving shuttles. Does May Mobility give Magna a toehold in this niche?
I think that would be overstating it. If you look at Magna's capability, we can certainly design any vehicle you want — the enclosures, the seats, the structure, the drivetrain. But we need to figure out a business model.
Those companies believe self-driving shuttles will be a profitable niche. Does Magna agree?
We are looking at the market to figure out who is going to make money. If you are going to build it, who will sell it? Who will be the players? That's a really big unknown. I wish I had a clear view of that market, but I don't think anybody does. There will be a market, but in my opinion it's like the Wild West.
Magna is skeptical that high-volume production of autonomous vehicles will happen anytime soon, right?
There is a lot of hype about Level 4 and Level 5. Look at all the money that has been spent. The industry will consolidate. There is not a big enough market for everyone to be spending so much money.