Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

3 Top Autonomous-Vehicle Companies to Watch

By Chris Neiger - Jan 17, 2020 at 8:30AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

This market will take a while to heat up, but keep an eye on these three.

You can't stroll down to your local car dealership and buy a self-driving car with fully autonomous capabilities (often referred to as Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy). But you can get vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that allow the vehicle to control some aspects of driving on their own, like emergency braking or adaptive cruise control.

As these ADAS systems advance and are paired together, they're creating the early beginnings of autonomous vehicles that will one day, hopefully, rule the road.

For investors looking for ways to benefit from the eventual rise of autonomous vehicles, there are a handful of companies that are making significant strides in ADAS right now and could benefit from increased vehicle autonomy in the coming years. Here's why you should keep an eye on Tesla (TSLA 1.66%), Alphabet's (GOOG 2.15%) (GOOGL 2.37%) Waymo, and NVIDIA (NVDA 1.22%).

A woman sitting in the driver's seat of a car, reading a book

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Tesla: Taking steps now to benefit in the future

Tesla's vehicles aren't fully autonomous, but the company does offer some ADAS features in its vehicles. Tesla's controversially named Autopilot system allows its vehicles to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically, when those features are enabled by a driver. Additionally, the company's "Navigate on Autopilot" feature can steer Tesla vehicles toward highway interchanges and exits.

While Tesla's vehicles can't drive themselves entirely, the company's ultrasonic sensors, cameras, radar, and other onboard tech are designed to provide expanded semi-autonomous driving capabilities in the coming years.

To get there, Tesla is using the technology it has in its vehicles now to train its driver-assistance systems of the future. This means that nearly every vehicle the company makes is also a data-collection machine, which is being used to improve the software that Tesla says will eventually allow its vehicles to drive themselves.

The benefit here for investors is that the company knows how important ADAS is to the automotive industry, and is taking steps now to benefit in the future.

2. Waymo: One of the leaders in the autonomous space

Alphabet's Waymo, formerly known as Google's "self-driving car project," has been working on autonomous vehicles for years and is one of the leaders in this space. At the end of 2018, the company launched a commercial autonomous ride-sharing service in Arizona called Waymo One, which allows users to ride in a self-driving van to do things like pick up groceries or go to school.

Just a few months ago, Waymo took a big step with its autonomous vehicle technology and began removing the human safety drivers from its Waymo One service, allowing users to take rides around town in a completely autonomous vehicle. At the end of 2019, Waymo said it had 1,500 monthly active users taking trips with Waymo One.

While Alphabet makes the vast majority of its revenue from Google, its Waymo company could eventually bring in sales by licensing its autonomous-vehicle software to automakers or other tech companies. Morgan Stanley recently valued Waymo at about $105 billion, and Alphabet has made it clear that it intends to make money from Waymo eventually. It could be a while before that happens, but there's no doubt that if there's money to be made from autonomous vehicles, Alphabet's Waymo is in the perfect position to do so.

3. NVIDIA: Helping automakers scale to higher levels with DRIVE

NVIDIA has developed semi-autonomous driving systems for years, and more than 370 companies and researchers currently use its tech. While NVIDIA's core business is making graphics processors, it's taken some of that technology and applied it to the company's DRIVE platform, allowing vehicles to process massive amounts of image data quickly.

Last month NVIDIA unveiled a new version of its semi-autonomous platform, DRIVE AutoPilot, and said that it's the "world's first commercially available Level 2+ automated driving system." Level 2 autonomy consists of features like changing lanes and making highway entrances and exits. NVIDIA says the platform will help automakers scale to higher levels of autonomy faster than before.

NVIDIA's long-term bet on autonomous vehicles is just getting started, so investors will have to wait a while for the company's self-driving potential to be fully realized. But NVIDIA's early moves in this market, and its current DRIVE platform capabilities, mean that the company is positioning itself now for an autonomous-vehicle future.

Be patient

There's been a lot of talk about self-driving cars for years now, but the fact remains that ubiquitous fully autonomous vehicles are still a couple of decades away. Yes, the companies listed above are making considerable strides in this market right now, but it's still going to take time before the technology is perfected.

What does this mean for investors who want to benefit from this market? They'll have to play the waiting game. New cars are gaining more autonomy every few years, but it's still going to be a slow transition from the levels of autonomy we're currently seeing to the Level 4 and Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles that could be the future of transportation.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,229.76 (2.37%) $51.60
NVIDIA Corporation Stock Quote
NVIDIA Corporation
$168.98 (1.22%) $2.04
Tesla, Inc. Stock Quote
Tesla, Inc.
$674.90 (1.66%) $11.00
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,233.33 (2.15%) $47.07

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning service.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 05/23/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.