The autonomous driving market is poised to grow to $77 billion by 2035, and automakers and tech companies alike are already expanding quickly into this market through semi-autonomous vehicles.
Investors looking to benefit from driverless cars would be wise to consider Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), Ford (NYSE: F), and NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA). None of the companies is a pure play in the driverless-car market, but each has significant exposure and is poised to benefit from its inevitable growth.
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Tesla: The driverless-car innovator
Tesla is best known for its sleek electric vehicles, but the company is also making huge investments in hardware and software to make its vehicles semi-autonomous, with the goal of reaching full autonomy soon.
The company most recently partnered with NVIDIA to bring the graphics-processor maker's Drive PX supercomputer into Tesla's vehicles. Drive PX is a supercomputer that processes image information in real time, giving vehicles a type of situational awareness.
What's notable about Tesla's self-driving car plans is that it's already building all of its vehicles with the necessary hardware to make them fully autonomous. Tesla is slowly rolling out software updates to bring new semi-autonomous features online, but the hardware is a clear indication of the company's plans. CEO Elon Musk says that the company will display its vehicles' driverless capabilities later this year, when it'll allow one of its vehicles to drive across the country on its own.
Tesla made about 82% of its $2.8 billion first-quarter 2017 revenue from its automotive business (the remainder came from its solar-power company and battery sales), so investors can expect any success in driverless cars to trickle down to the company's bottom line.
That may not happen for a while, but Tesla is certainly positioning itself well, aside from the driverless-car hardware installed in its vehicles. The company has plans to allow Tesla owners to rent out their autonomous vehicles when they're not using them. And it is developing a driverless semi-truck that's expected to debut next month.
Ford: The seasoned automaker
Ford may not be the first company many investors think of when considering a driverless-car investment, but the automotive giant is a current leader in the driverless space and will likely further its position in the coming years.
Ford invested $1 billion earlier this year in an artificial-intelligence company called Argo AI, which will supply the brains behind Ford's self-driving car technologies. Ford is currently testing 30 self-driving cars -- which will triple to 90 by next year -- and says that it plans to release a fully autonomous vehicle in 2021.
Ford has also wisely purchased a ride-sharing service called Chariot, which could eventually be used to rent out driverless cars to customers. Chariot already operates in nine cities, and Ford's current driverless-car technologies could eventually be paired with it to create new autonomous-driving services.
Finally, Ford is also investing $700 million to renovate part of its Flat Rock plant so that some of the assembly lines there will be able to make autonomous vehicles. Ford's management thinks that driverless cars could account for 20% of annual vehicle sales for the entire auto industry by 2030, and the company's positioning itself well to cash in when that day comes.
NVIDIA: The brains behind most companies' driverless-car tech
I've already mentioned how NVIDIA's Drive PX supercomputer is helping to power Tesla's driverless-car plans, but the company's technology is also being used by Toyota, Audi, Baidu, and Volvo Cars. This is notable because as more tech companies and automakers look to bring driverless cars to their customers, NVIDIA is consistently one of the go-to companies that they choose.
Among the reasons for this are the company's superior graphics processors, the brains behind most driverless vehicles. NVIDIA's graphics processing units (GPUs) are able to process massive amounts of image information very quickly, and the company's artificial-intelligence software allows computers in these vehicles to understand what they're seeing and make critical driving decisions.
NVIDIA only earned 6% of its total revenue from its automotive business in its fiscal second-quarter 2018, but investors should know that the company anticipates that its total addressable market for driverless cars will be about $8 billion by 2025. With several key driverless-car partnerships already solidified, and more than 225 automakers, Tier 1 suppliers, and researchers testing Drive PX, NVIDIA is on a clear path to benefiting from the driverless-car market.
Sit back and relax
Remember that we're still in the beginning stages of the driverless-car market, and there are plenty of technological and regulatory hurdles yet to overcome. Fully autonomous cars will take the streets slowly, and only after automakers build in more semi-autonomous features. This means that Tesla, Ford, and NVIDIA may have to wait a while before driverless cars start significantly contributing to their revenues. But each company is poised to benefit, and investors should take notice of these driverless-car leaders right now.
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