The development of self-driving cars is fully underway, with major chip providers and car manufacturers jockeying for position. Some of the major technology companies that are in the middle of the action, such as NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA), Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), and Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL), are obvious choices to consider if you're looking for direct exposure to the autonomous car market.
But according to a research report from Morgan Stanley, the best self-driving car stock might be one you already own. Morgan Stanley estimates that fully automated vehicles will save people about 600 billion hours of time that would otherwise be spent watching the road, which could bring significant benefits to entertainment and software providers where people already find value.
The companies that stand to benefit
Think about all of the ways people like to spend their time at home, and the products and services that come to mind could benefit from the new era of automated vehicles. People having more free time as their cars do the driving could have enormous implications across the economy in the coming decades.
For example, the economy could see dramatic increases in productivity as people have more time to get more work done before they get to the office. Mass PC adoption in the 1990s brought significant increases in productivity, and supercomputers on wheels could do the same.
A few beneficiaries of this would be Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Both are working to integrate their software and services in the connected car of the future. Apple has been rolling out its CarPlay operating system for connected cars, and Microsoft wants the car of the future to be powered with its Azure cloud service.
As cars become supercomputers, it's not inconceivable to imagine Windows for the car one day. Apple's CarPlay is very limited at this point, but expect to see operating systems for the car become more functional over time.
There will also be more time for watching movies, TV shows, sports, and news, as well as playing games and shopping online. This would clearly benefit the current leaders in these areas, including Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), and Alphabet.
One of the biggest beneficiaries could be video games, as Americans are starting to spend more time playing mobile games than watching content on Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube. The mobile game market is about $40 billion currently and is expected to reach $65 billion by 2020, according to Newzoo. Major video game companies Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI), Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO), and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA) are all invested in the mobile game market, and all could experience a boost in their mobile game business from self-driving car adoption.
Timeline to get self-driving cars on the road
Fully autonomous cars are not expected to hit the road until at least 2021. Even then, it may take decades for the adoption of driverless cars to filter out to the masses. Morgan Stanley likens the adoption cycle to the introduction of the electric utility grid in the late 19th century, which took a while to fully scale to a societal standard.
The idea of what a car is today will radically change in the coming decades. Investors looking for a good way to ride the wave of driverless car adoption may need to look no further than household names that may already be in their portfolio.
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