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Could Tesla CEO Elon Musk Be Changing His Mind On Lidar Sensors?

Tesla (TSLA) appears to be testing lidar sensors for its Autopilot system again, even if CEO Elon Musk has trashed the technology. Tesla stock rose.




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The latest sighting was in Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend. A Model Y with manufacturer plates from California was spotted with a roof rack equipped with lidar sensors, according to InsideEV. The report cited autonomous driving consultant Grayson Brulte. Brulte says he confirmed with Luminar Technologies (LAZR) that the vehicle he photographed was using its H lidar sensors.

In June 2020, a Model S with a similar rooftop rig was spotted near Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

At an April 2019 event showcasing Tesla’s self-driving technology, Musk said “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed.” He said lidar is a shortcut that sidesteps the fundamental problems of visual recognition that is necessary for autonomy.

Lidar determines ranges by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. Most automakers and startups developing self-driving technology incorporate lidar in their systems. Its high cost could be one reason Musk has so far refused to adopt its use. Currently, lidar sensors can cost around $500 apiece. 

Tesla’s Autopilot relies on eight cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors. Musk has insisted that’s all that is needed, despite a spate of car crashes in which its Autopilot features have come into question.

Most recently, Washington state police are investigating a crash in which they say a Tesla was in Autopilot when it crashed into their Ford Explorer patrol vehicle.

Earlier this month, a Southern California man was killed when his Tesla Model 3 slammed into an overturned semi truck. Authorities said the vehicle was in Autopilot at the time of the crash.

Tesla Stock

Shares rose 3% to 598 on the stock market today, moving above the 200-day line. Tesla stock has been finding resistance at its 200-day, according to MarketSmith chart analysis. Shares are well below their 50-day line, which is also sloping downward.

Tesla stock is 35% off its 52-week high of 900.40, as highly valued growth plays and EV makers have sold off hard in recent months. A declining Bitcoin value also could be weighing on TSLA stock. Tesla bought $1.5 billion of the cryptocurrency in February. It sold a portion of its holdings in March, which added $101 million to its bottom line in the last quarter.

Tesla’s relative strength line has been trending lower since January’s peak. Its RS Rating is 86, while its EPS Rating is 74.

Luminar stock rose as much as 9% in early trading, before giving up most of those gains. LAZR stock is up 1.5%.

Among U.S. carmakers with a growing slate of electric vehicles, Ford (F) fell 1.8% after soaring last month. General Motors (GM) edged up 0.2%. China-based rivals Nio (NIO) rose 2.6%, Xpeng (XPEV) edged up 1.1% and Li Auto (LI) 1.2%.

Follow Adelia Cellini Linecker @IBD_Adelia.

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