Self-driving technology startup Aurora announced that it will go public through a reverse merger transaction with Reinvent Technology Partners Y (Reinvent), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), that will provide the company with a cash injection to help continue its development of autonomous truck driving technology and, in the future, for self-driving passenger vehicles as well.
What is a Reverse Merger?
Reverse mergers, and the SPACs that enable them, have become a somewhat controversial method for companies to go public without having to otherwise meet the strict requirements for listing. Going public is not usually an option for companies such as Aurora that do not have a profitable business model in place (and that have not, in fact, made any profits). In addition, this move comes at a time when the overall self-driving car industry is struggling with failed deadlines, still unreliable technology, high cash burn rates, a loss of public trust and the failure of many similar companies. The move to invest more money into self-driving startups either indicates confidence in a forthcoming technological breakthrough or a desperate attempt to keep companies afloat until this major challenge to artificial intelligence applications is overcome, analysts have opined.
The Aurora SPAC funded by Reinvent will result in an injection of more than $2 billion into Aurora so that it can continue its (expensive and unprofitable to date) operations for several more years. Reinvent was launched by Reid Hoffman (the co-founder of LinkedIn), Mark Pincus (Zynga founder) and investor Michael Thompson. Other investors include various other Aurora funders as well as other partners including T. Rowe Price and Associates, Sequoia Capital, Uber, Index Ventures, PACCAR and Volvo, among others.
Aurora’s Products and Competitors
If Aurora's plan is successful investors are likely to see huge returns for their backing but the road ahead is risky and uncertain according to industry analysts. The move to focus on self-driving trucks makes sense from a business perspective but other moves, such as autonomous ride-hailing, have been found to be much more difficult to implement with both Uber and Lyft abandoning their efforts. If Aurora manages to deliver its self-driving truck technology it will give it access to a huge and profitable market the income from which could fund their continued research and development to reach their ultimate goal. This is necessary to overcome the accelerating losses the company has experienced with losses of over $214 million in 2020 and $94 million in 2021.
Aurora has stated that it does not expect to achieve profitability before 2027 which it forecasts will be three years after it delivers its autonomous truck driving product. Given the long history of missed deadlines in this technology space, experts and commentators expect there will be significant adjustments to this timeline and Aurora acknowledges this in its listing information. In fact the company outlines over 68 risk factors that could impact its business model making it a highly risky investment proposition.
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson on building the roadmap to fully autonomous vehicles | E1228