As we move deeper into the ride-sharing economy and closer to the realization of self-driving cars, the huge investing question is: What happens to the automakers?

Like peering through a rain-soaked windshield without wipers, the future is not easy to see. Will ridesharing mean fewer cars on the road? Or will we need huge fleets of self-driving vehicles that are available on-demand for sleepy commuters and late-night beer runs?

Either way, it seems there will be a lower rate of individual vehicle ownership in the long-term. 

However, don't believe for a minute that the automakers are just sitting around trading stories about the good old days. Without exception, all of the major players are preparing for a very different next 100 years than the last.

Ford (NYSE:F) saw the future years ago and is a "mobility company" now rather than a car company. Mercedes parent Daimler has entered the ridesharing space in a big way with Uber rivals RideScout and car2go. General Motors (NYSE:GM) has invested in Lyft, and it announced a program that will allow buyers to subsidize an auto purchase by driving for Lyft. BMW is part of the DriveNow ridesharing platform in Europe and is reaching into North America with its brand new ReachNow service, starting in Seattle.

A few weeks ago, at South by Southwest, I was able to talk with Doug Newcomb, founder of C3 and one of the foremost auto and tech experts in the world. In the video below, we talk more about this changing landscape, and how America is starting to view automobiles in a less romantic manner.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.