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2 Driverless Car Stocks Investors Don't Need to Babysit

By Harsh Chauhan – Jun 5, 2017 at 1:08PM

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If you're looking for driverless car plays, NVIDIA and Alphabet might be for you. Here's why.

Self-driving car technology is in its nascent stages, but 44 companies are already chasing the opportunity. The Boston Consulting Group forecasts that driverless cars will create a $42 billion revenue opportunity for various stakeholders by 2025, which could rise to $77 billion in 2035.

But tech investors don't need to wait to benefit from self-driving cars, as Alphabet (GOOG -0.19%) (GOOGL -0.15%) and NVIDIA (NVDA -1.51%) are already pushing the envelope in this space. What's more, these companies are not pure-play driverless car stocks, so investors won't be left high and dry if the technology takes time to take off.

NVIDIA's automotive business is getting better by the day

NVIDIA has moved fast and aggressively in the self-driving car space by partnering with automakers like Tesla, Audi, and many others. Tesla is already using the chipmaker's DRIVE PX2 self-driving car platform across all vehicle models, including the upcoming Model 3. Volkswagen AG's subsidiary Audi is working with NVIDIA to develop a self-driving vehicle with level 4 autonomy, requiring limited human intervention.

A representative image of a self-driving car

Image source: NVIDIA. 

Both companies displayed a self-driving car in January this year, which taught itself to drive autonomously in just four days using NVIDIA's artificial intelligence-enabled (AI) technology. Not surprisingly, Audi now plans to bring a "proper" self-driving car to the market by 2020 in collaboration with NVIDIA.

NVIDIA is also tapping Tier 1 auto component suppliers such as Bosch and ZF -- which makes safety systems -- to sell its self-driving car technology. For instance, Bosch is using NVIDIA's AI expertise to build self-driving systems for use on a mass scale. ZF, meanwhile, has already launched its ProAI system to add self-driving capabilities to not just cars, but also trucks and factories.

Not surprisingly, the impressive uptake of NVIDIA's self-driving technology by automakers and component suppliers is already adding to its top line. NVIDIA's automotive revenue jumped almost 24% year over year during the first quarter, with the segment now accounting for just over 7% of its revenue.

Though automotive is a small percentage of NVIDIA's total revenue, this actually helps to make the graphics chips specialist a safe bet. It has many other fast-growing businesses such as gaming and data centers to fall back on.

Alphabet's technology is fast moving toward commercialization

Alphabet's driverless car division Waymo has made two big announcements in recent weeks. First, Waymo announced that it is introducing an early rider program in Phoenix -- along with Fiat Chrysler -- to gain feedback on its technology and cars. The early riders will be able to use 600 Fiat Pacifica Hybrid minivans powered by Waymo's technology for their daily runs, suggesting that Alphabet is targeting the ride-sharing market.

Waymo self-driving car.

Image source: Alphabet. 

Waymo's second big move is further proof that the company is aggressively targeting the ride-sharing market. It recently announced a partnership with Uber rival Lyft, which now plans to use Waymo's technology to test self-driving vehicles. In fact, Lyft founder John Zimmer believes that the majority of Lyft's customers will be in self-driving cars by 2021, so its Waymo partnership makes a lot of sense.

Waymo has extensively tested its self-driving technology. Its cars drove more than 630,000 miles in California in 2016, while second-place Nissan's self-driving cars were driven just 4,099 miles. More importantly, Waymo has achieved a high level of accuracy, as its cars disengaged (meaning a human driver had to take over) just 0.20 times for every 1,000 autonomous miles in 2016.

Therefore, Waymo could make it big in the ride-sharing market, which could be worth $70 billion in 2021, according to Statista.

Now, Alphabet doesn't spell out the stand-alone revenue from the Waymo unit, but it does plan to commercialize its technology by 2020. The company's recent moves clearly indicate that it is moving fast to meet its timeline, but any delays shouldn't worry investors, as Alphabet's other businesses are doing well.

The company's top line jumped 22% year over year during the latest quarter, thanks to significant growth in YouTube advertising revenue and mobile search, making it a diversified bet to take advantage of self-driving cars.

The Foolish bottom line

NVIDIA and Alphabet have a lot of revenue streams to count on, so investors won't have to babysit them while they make impressive inroads into driverless cars, setting the stage for these tech giants to boost their business as the technology gains greater adoption.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Harsh Chauhan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Nvidia, and TSLA. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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