It's true that the most lucrative and profitable automotive market is at the peak of this cycle, and year-to-date, light vehicle sales have only notched a meager 0.5% gain compared to the prior year, through October. With transaction prices rising, as are interest rates and tariffs, there could be more pressure on sales. The good news? Despite a slowing sales market and potential headwinds, there are still buys in the auto sector for savvy investors. For different reasons, which we'll cover below, PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ:PCAR), Ferrari N.V. (NYSE:RACE), and Aptiv PLC (NYSE: APTV) are all intriguing stocks.
Hauling big bucks
Paccar might not be a company you've heard of. It manufactures and sells light, medium, and heavy-duty trucks and related parts -- think massive commercial semi-trucks -- under brands you have a better chance of recognizing: Kenworth, Peterbilt, and DAF.
Even if those brands don't ring a bell, they definitely do in the heavy-equipment industry, and Paccar has built a strong brand image based on the high quality of its products. And don't let the company's 16% slide in stock price during October fool you; it was hurt by the automotive and broader industrials sell-off. In fact, the company posted a solid third quarter with revenues moving 14% higher compared to the prior year, and earnings per share checking in at $1.55 compared to the prior year's $1.14 -- also higher than analysts' estimates calling for $1.50 per share.
Beyond its strong revenue and earnings driven by strong global truck demand, the company had record truck production, record market share in Europe, and excellent aftermarket parts performance. Essentially, while the stock might hurt from a broader auto and industrial sell-off, its commercial truck business is thriving. The good news is that trucking is already a dominant mode of transporting goods, responsible for moving 71% of total U.S. freight tonnage hauled, compared to 13% by rail, 10% by pipeline, and 6% by water, according to the company's third-quarter presentation. And its trucking dominance should continue as the e-commerce sales boom requires more goods to be shipped around the globe.
Driving the future
A slowing light-vehicle automotive market shouldn't concern long-term Aptiv investors too much. That's because Aptiv is focusing on developing and producing technology for the future of active safety, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and connectivity. In other words, the future is driving toward driverless cars. Aptiv will develop technology to make that happen sooner, and also develop technology for the opportunities surrounding driverless vehicles.
While Aptiv's stock might get pulled down with a broader automotive decline as it's currently tied to selling products to major OEMs, investors should focus on its future addressable market. In 2017, Aptiv estimated its addressable market to be roughly $15 billion. Through advancements in automated driving, connected services, and adjacent markets, Aptiv should unlock an additional $35 billion in incremental addressable market opportunities, to a total of $50 billion, by 2025.
In addition to the technology Aptiv develops, investors should be intrigued by the partnerships it's fostering. Take for example Aptiv's partnership with ride-hailing company Lyft in Las Vegas. The pilot program launched a fleet of 30 BMW sedans with Aptiv's self-driving prototype system and connected the dots with consumers through Lyft's ride-hailing platform. The partnership celebrated its 5,000th public ride in August and proved that consumers were indeed willing to pay for autonomous rides. The good news is that the average passenger rating was 4.96 out of 5 stars, and 96% of passengers say they would use the self-driving ride again.
The road to driverless vehicles will be a bumpy ride, but investors willing to hold on for the long haul should be well positioned, as Aptiv's future will be more based on driverless technology than the cyclical light-vehicle sales market.
All about exclusivity
Are you tired of auto stocks trading in the dumps with paltry valuations and attached too heavily to cyclical sales? Are you tired of auto manufacturers that are forced to do anything, including mounting incentives that can erode profits, to sell vehicles and protect market share? If you answered yes, then Ferrari is absolutely a stock to check out as it often trades at premium, luxury-good valuation multiples, and has only methodically allowed its sales to increase at rates that will protect the exclusivity of its brand image and pricing premium. That pricing power, ultra-premium brand image, and exclusivity can be seen in its extraordinary operating margins, compared to automakers more tied to the cyclical mainstream sales market.
You might be asking yourself, if Ferrari limits the sales of its premium vehicles, what growth story can it offer investors? Management is glad you asked, and it has two distinct opportunities to fuel growth. First, we have to remember Ferrari is a global luxury automaker, and that the number of wealthy consumers in China literally gives the automaker a once-in-a-generation chance to boost sales dramatically without any concern of erasing its exclusivity, simply due to the booming number of wealthy Chinese consumers.
Ferrari also recognizes there's a unique opportunity to sell more limited-edition vehicles exclusively to its best customers that likely already own a handful of its vehicles. Of course, these will likely sell in minuscule numbers, but because the price tags are so outrageous -- think to the tune of seven figures -- they can still boost bottom-line profits.
To take advantage of those two opportunities for growth, Ferrari plans to launch 15 new products between now and 2022, including the automaker's first SUV. The automaker boasts incredible margins, is less tied to the cyclical light-vehicle sales markets with its wealthy consumers being less impacted by downturns, has a brand image few companies can compare to, and can increase its top and bottom lines significantly without damaging its exclusivity and pricing power -- a pretty compelling growth story not impacted by the current sales plateau.
Ultimately, a vast majority of the automotive sector will get pulled down with North America's sales market topping out, including Detroit automakers and a plethora of suppliers and other businesses. Since Paccar has set itself above the competition with quality and isn't concerned about selling passenger cars, Aptiv is focused on driverless vehicle technology for decades to come, and Ferrari's brand is so exclusive without negatively impacting its business, these three stocks remain buys regardless of a plateauing North American market.