Why Investors May Need to Pump the Brakes Before Buying Into Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous electric vehicles and car-sharing are supposed to revolutionize how get from from point A to point B, but are the near-term outlooks reasonable?

Motley Fool Staff
Motley Fool Staff
Jun 4, 2017 at 12:50PM

In this segment from Market Foolery, Mac Greer trots out the theme of "Yes, No, Maybe So" for Motley Fool analysts David Kretzmann and Matt Argersinger. Each Fool tells us about a trend they feel bullish on, one they feel bearish on, and one that has them on the fence.

For a surprising twist, Argersinger is not quite on board with the wild optimism many investors and media outlets have expressed regarding the so-called automotive upheaval that is expected to occur with the rise of driverless cars and related technology.

A full transcript follows the video.

Mac Greer: Let's close out with our maybe-so stock. Matt, this is something that you're still kind of noodling over, you're conflicted about. Sorry, it's not a stock, it's a trend or theme or something happening. What are you a maybe on?

Matt Argersinger: I actually don't know what this theme should be called. Is it autonomous vehicles? Is it mobility disruption? Is it the shared car revolution? However you want to call it, I guess mobility disruption might be the best catch-all phrase. I've listened to Chris Hill's interview with the RethinkX's founder, Tony Seba, from last week's Motley Fool Money radio show, twice now. Because I think it's mind blowing, the future that Seba has laid out in his research firm, and about what's going to happen in, he's pointing out five or six years, where we're going to be at a point where everyone is using shared vehicles, for the most part. That electric, autonomous vehicles are dominating the roads, we don't need parking lots, we don't need car dealers, we don't need auto producers like Ford, because maybe Tesla or one other company is going to be making all the vehicles we use anyway and no one is really going to care.

Greer: And it's really more of a service that you could potentially be a member of and subscribe to, and your car comes by and picks you up, and then you're done with it, and you don't own your own car.

Argersinger: Right. And why do I care what the car might look like or how it performs? It just gets me from point A to point B in a very comfortable setting, and I'm good. There's a lot to love about that future, and I'm excited about it, frankly. But, what you have to assume, and we talked about this before the show, Mac, is you have to assume that people are really going to be willing to give up private car ownership. And maybe that works, if you're someone who's living in the city, and having a car is a hassle and an expense you don't want to deal with. But if you live in a lot of parts of the country and you want a car to drive a few hours to see someone or go somewhere or go camping --

Greer: Or if you're in a rural area, there's no way.

Argersinger: Right. There's not going to be a car sharing service network that can get to you, yeah. So, there's a lot of things you have to assume. And, by the way, the big elephant in the room is the government, the state governments, federal, local. There's going to be a lot of regulations passed to enable these autonomous vehicle networks to happen anyway. So, I'm excited about the future. Whether or not it happens in five or six years, I'm very skeptical of that. Even 10 years seems really a stretch. But it's coming, I just don't know when the timing is going to be, and who's going to win and who's going to lose from this. There are so many implications. The average consumer, if you explain to them this future, I think they're like, "What? That's not going to happen." But that's kind of how disruption happens. It can happen quickly.

Greer: Yeah. And I was skeptical, we were talking about this beforehand, and I think the tricky part of this is for people -- and we all fit into this category -- who know how to drive, who grew up driving, making that transition, for me, at least, is very difficult, because I love driving, I love the psychology of being able to drive when I want, where I want. But, my kids, if they never learn to drive on their own, and this is the world they know, so what?

Argersinger: Right. And I think Seba's point is a good one. It's just, when something happens so dramatically, where the cost drops 10X and it just becomes something that's so much more convenient, and if walking out of our front door every morning and getting into a shared car that pulls right up, and not dealing with traffic, and not dealing with having to park the car, and being dropped right in front of our office or wherever we're going, it's a compelling future. And if that's the case, I think it can happen pretty fast. But there's so much that has to happen before we even get to that point.

Greer: And there's going to be that period, that transition period, where some vehicles, I assume, will be autonomous, and some vehicles not. If that's the case, I'm still driving, because I don't want to get in the car that's autonomous and trust that technology, realizing that there are human drivers on the road. I don't like that. 

David Kretzmann: I'll piggyback off this and ask a question. Any guesses for the top three-selling vehicles in the U.S. last year?

Greer: The Ford F-150, that's the truck, I think, worldwide.

Argersinger: Always in the top three.

Greer: The Honda Accord?

Kretzmann: Nope. No. 3 is Ram trucks, No. 2 Chevy Silverado, No. 1 Ford F-150. So, when I think of autonomous driving, I never think about a truck. But literally the top three-selling vehicles in the country are trucks. I don't know if anyone really wants an autonomous truck, necessarily.

Argersinger: And, good luck, the guy who just bought the Ford F-150, good luck convincing him that he's going to get into an autonomous sedan at some point.

Kretzmann: "Here's your Prius."

Argersinger: Right. I agree.

Greer: Are both of you guys there with the technology right now, if a Google driverless car pulls up right now and says, "I'll take you to Dallas Airport," are you good with that?

Kretzmann: I would hop in, sure. 

Argersinger: [laughs] What Mac said about other humans still being out there driving around ... I would, though, I'd be willing to give it a try, for sure.

Greer: But you would feel better if they were all autonomous?

Argersinger: Oh, absolutely.

Greer: I would too. I'll take that bet.

Kretzmann: Get rid of the human error whenever possible.