Many investors are keeping an eye on the nascent driverless-car market, since the rise of autonomous vehicles could generate fresh revenue for a wide range of companies. Today, a trio of our Motley Fool contributors will highlight driverless-technology stocks that you should follow closely: Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), BlackBerry (NYSE:BB), and Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA).
A software leader in driverless cars
Leo Sun (Baidu): Baidu owns China's largest search engine. And two years ago, it launched Apollo, its open-source autonomous driving platform. Apollo now has nearly 140 global partners, including Ford, Intel, NVIDIA, and Microsoft.
Baidu started testing driverless cars on public roads in China in 2015, gained approval to test its cars in California in 2016, and launched an autonomous-driving lab in Silicon Valley in 2017. Its autonomous driving technology even powers Walmart's delivery vehicles in several U.S. cities. The company also recently started to test its first driverless taxi fleet in Changsha, China.
Baidu's driverless efforts are promising, but they're taking a toll on its earnings. The company recently posted its first quarterly loss since its IPO, due to a slowdown in its core advertising business and the costly expansion of its ecosystem -- which includes Apollo, its virtual assistant DuerOS, its short video app Haokan, Mini Programs for the Baidu app, and other services.
Its stock plunged after that result, but shares are now historically cheap and its ecosystem investments should eventually pay off. If more autonomous cars are approved for public roads over the next decade, Apollo could become a pillar of the industry and tether more tech companies and automakers to its ecosystem.
Investors shouldn't buy Baidu yet, since it should remain in the penalty box until its revenue and earnings growth accelerate again. Nonetheless, this stock belongs on any long-term watchlist for driverless technologies.
Perception isn't reality for BlackBerry
Jamal Carnette, CFA (BlackBerry): BlackBerry has a perception problem. After essentially creating the smartphone market as Research in Motion, the company lost share to Apple and Alphabet, which partnered with third parties to build out their app-based ecosystems. This failure is often the first thing that comes to mind for investors, and the name change to BlackBerry -- the phone line's name -- didn't help.
But this isn't the BlackBerry of yesteryear: CEO John Chen has taken the company in a different path, focusing on security and its QNX operating system for automobiles. In the fourth quarter, the company reported 14 automotive design wins, 11 of which are for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
While it's important to note these ADAS wins are not for full autonomous vehicles, QNX's secure OS and embedded software are well positioned to provide many of the bundled functions that are needed for full autonomy. More importantly, it shows a deepening relationship with automakers as BlackBerry's QNX is already in 120 million vehicles.
The worst is behind for BlackBerry's top line. Smartphone-related revenue declines are manageable, and the company is ready for a new future powered by the Enterprise of Things, which includes autonomous vehicles. If you're looking for a higher-risk/higher-return company to benefit from driverless cars, put this stock on your watchlist
Seeing beyond Ambarella's troubled past
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (Ambarella): Its sales have been declining in recent quarters, but that's no reason for investors to stay away from Ambarella. Instead, while it remains a risky bet, the tech specialist has a shot at delivering healthy returns from here.
Ambarella is pivoting away from its low-power consumer video-processing offerings that went into things like drones and sports cameras. After being stung by volatility in those markets, management decided a few years ago to turn its considerable engineering resources toward computer vision chips. As a result, it is now several generations into its tech releases in this lineup and has built up a small but encouraging sales base among autonomous-driving tech manufacturers.
CEO Fermi Wang and his executive team believe the shift toward higher-growth areas like security cameras and autonomous driving should power a return to overall sales gains by the second half of 2019. Its products will need to win market share against some hefty tech competition, to be sure. But Ambarella appears well positioned to gain traction in this emerging market and at least end its sales slide in 2019.