A small town in Bavaria: its 6,000 inhabitants, its onion bell towers, its green countryside and… its Valeo factory. Here in Wemding, in this rural setting, operates one of the most cutting-edge locations in the global automotive industry. Valeo, France’s second largest supplier (and tenth in the world), mass-manufactures sensors for autonomous cars. From the ultramodern lines of Wemding emerges, in particular, one of the most complex objects to be produced on a large scale: the Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging). This laser radar not only detects all surrounding objects up to 200 meters, day and night, but also identifies them and measures their speed and direction.
Valeo’s parent factory for automotive sensors since the 1990s, ideally placed between the seats of BMW, Mercedes and Audi, Wemding is booming. The site already produces 55 million ultrasonic sensors (these “beep-beeps” that guide parking) and 8 million front cameras annually. And the managers are preparing to launch a second production line for the new generation Lidar Valeo, an essential part, with cameras and radars, for any driverless car.
This is because the manufacturer has decided to engage – and this for ten years – in the market of the autonomous car. The bet is expensive: the development of Lidar has cost hundreds of millions of euros in investment and currently involves 400 engineers. It is risky too. After a period of euphoria, around 2015, when some announced a car without a steering wheel or pedals within five years, the manufacturers backed down. We will not spend billions, they were essentially saying, on the unattainable dream of a driverless vehicle capable of driving everywhere, including Place de l’Etoile at rush hour.
An enticing market estimated at $ 70 billion
“We never said it would be simple and instant, emphasizes Marc Vrecko, director of Valeo’s driving assistance center. All this is being done gradually, there was the maneuvering aid (ultrasound, reversing camera), then the safety and driving assistance systems (emergency braking, lane keeping). We now arrive at level 3 of autonomy, namely the possibility of delegating driving to the car in certain circumstances. “
Valeo therefore sees an attractive market coming up. He estimates the revenue from the Lidar alone in 2030 at 70 billion dollars (59 billion euros). In 2025, 75% of new vehicles should, according to the manufacturer, have at least one front camera for emergency braking. , and half of these new cars will be equipped with equipment to partially delegate driving. Forecasts supported by comments made in June by the CEO of the Volkswagen group, Herbert Diess: “Autonomous driving will transform the industry more than the electric vehicle. “ And Valeo intends to capitalize on its lead. “We are the first, and to date the only ones, to be able to produce a Lidar on an industrial scale”, Mr. Vrecko notes.
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