Many automakers and tech companies expect driverless cars to hit public roads within the next decade. As a result, many investors are drawn toward companies that tout the development of driverless technologies.
But many frequently mentioned companies in this fledgling industry -- like NVIDIA, Alphabet, and Mobileye -- don't generate significant revenue from fully driverless cars yet. They also don't pay investors any dividends for waiting around.
Ford plans to launch its first autonomous vehicles via a ride-sharing service in 2021. Autonomous vehicles for private owners will arrive about a decade later, according to Ford's research and advanced engineering VP Ken Washington.
Over the past year, Ford invested in or collaborated with several start-ups to develop driverless vehicles and doubled the size of its Silicon Valley team. These plans strengthened the foundation of Ford Smart Mobility, the automaker's long-term plan to become a market leader in autonomous vehicles, connectivity, mobility, customer experience, data, and analytics.
Ford's stock has declined about 10% this year due to sputtering new vehicle sales in its core U.S. market. Analysts expect Ford's revenue to rise just 1% this year, and for its earnings to dip 1% as sluggish sales squeeze its margins. However, Ford looks very cheap at just six times forward earnings, and it pays a forward yield of 5.6%. That dividend is comfortably supported by a payout ratio of 63%.
Qualcomm, the biggest mobile chipmaker in the world, has also been investing heavily in connected and driverless cars. It launched Snapdragon Automotive chips for infotainment and navigation systems, acquired IoT and automotive chipmaker CSR in 2015, and plans to buy NXP Semiconductors, the biggest automotive chipmaker in the world.
Once the NXP acquisition closes, Qualcomm can bundle its own 4G chipsets with NXP's BlueBox driverless platform and automotive chips. This would help it challenge NVIDIA, which currently offers Tegra chips for infotainment systems and its Drive PX platform for autonomous cars.
Qualcomm shares have dropped 20% this year due to ongoing challenges in its chipmaking and licensing businesses. Its chipmaking business faces cheaper rivals and first-party chips from big OEMs, while its licensing business is besieged by probes and lawsuits regarding its licensing fees.
That's why analysts expect Qualcomm's revenue and earnings to respectively slip 2% and 6% this year. However, the stock remains fairly cheap at 13 times forward earnings, and it pays a forward yield of 4.4% -- which is supported by a payout ratio of 83%.
Intel was once considered a laggard in the driverless race since its Atom chips only powered infotainment systems for a handful of automakers. But over the past year, Intel partnered with BMW, Mobileye, and auto components maker Delphi to develop an autonomous driving platform.
Intel eventually decided to acquire Mobileye earlier this year. Buying Mobileye gives Intel a major presence in the connected car market since roughly 90% of leading automakers already use the Israeli company's collision avoidance systems. Mobileye also sells the EyeQ computer vision chip, which complements Intel's acquisition of computer vision startup Movidius last year.
Intel shares have fallen 4% this year as sluggish enterprise spending and longer upgrade cycles dented its data center CPU business. Its PC business is also being threatened by a resurgent AMD's new Ryzen chips. Despite those headwinds, analysts still expect Intel's revenue and earnings to respectively grow 3% and 11% this year.
Intel currently pays a forward yield of 3.2%, which accounted for just 40% of its earnings over the past 12 months. Like Ford and Qualcomm, the stock also looks inexpensive at 12 times next year's earnings.
Which driverless stock is the best dividend play?
Ford, Qualcomm, and Intel all offer investors decent dividends and exposure to the driverless car market. But if I had to pick the "best" one, I'd stick with Ford. The automaker's cyclical headwinds seem more manageable than Qualcomm's ongoing crises or Intel's looming challenges in PCs and data centers. Moreover, Ford offers the highest yield with the lowest multiple -- which should limit its downside potential.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun owns shares of Ford and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Ford, and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and NXP Semiconductors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.