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Why Automakers Are Looking Beyond 'Self-Driving' -- and Why Investors Should Follow

By John Rosevear and Nick Sciple - Feb 5, 2021 at 1:33PM

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There's a reason why we don't have fully self-driving cars yet.

Recently, on Motley Fool Live, Industry Focus host Nick Sciple sat down with John Rosevear, the senior auto specialist for Fool.com, to look at some of the trends likely to unfold in the auto industry in 2021. In this video, recorded on Jan. 12, Nick and John discuss the latest wrinkles in the ongoing race to develop and deploy self-driving cars. 

Nick Sciple: John, what's your second trend you're watching for 2021?

John Rosevear: Well, we've been talking about the imminent arrival of self-driving cars for a long time, and then what we saw in 2020 is a lot of the leading players in that space, or players perceived as the leading players in that space started saying, "It's not coming as quickly as we thought. This is a harder problem than we realized. The last 2, 3% of this is very difficult."

What we are seeing more players talk about as better is what we call ADAS, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. These are short of full self-driving, but are intended to really help a human driver drive more safely. We've already seen pieces of this. Adaptive cruise control, the thing that beeps when you're about to hit something when you're backing up, lane change stuff. This will get more and more sophisticated because now we're seeing the hardware to enable more sophisticated stuff, lower-cost lidar units which we've talked about on the show in the past. This is going to be a growing trend. Some companies like Toyota (TM 0.84%) and General Motors (GM 1.35%) have been developing them in parallel, ADAS and a full self-driving program. I don't remember what Toyota's name for theirs is, their advanced driver assist, but it's along the lines of "guardian angel." The idea is it's looking out for the driver all the time, but the human is still doing the driving. Expect more of this, expect more advanced stuff, expect to see more vehicles ship with lidar, with digital mapping capability. This is going to be something we're going to be talking about much more over the next couple of years. Even as we realize that it's probably going to be a few more years before you start to see the self-driving taxis in San Francisco.

Sciple: Right. You're starting to see this market maturing. We've seen Waymo come out. I think it was just this week or last week saying they're changing the language they're going to use around their vehicles called autonomous driving technology. Really trying to clarify this difference between this driver assist that you're going to see lots more automakers bring to market, and then the full autonomous robot taxis that we've seen.

We thought about a couple of years ago, you mentioned lidar, we've thought about lidar as this thing that's central to level 4 self-driving cars. But I just listened to an interview on the Autonocast -- which for anybody who's interested in self-driving cars, you should check out that podcast -- with the Luminar (LAZR 1.85%) CEO. He was talking about how they saw as the importance to that the future of their business to develop market in this driver-assist business, get in with some of these automakers. We're seeing this market mature, which I think is interesting.

To your point, John, earlier about we're seeing these big automakers come into the electric vehicle market, and at the same time, they're entering this market that Tesla (TSLA 1.24%) has had to themselves when it comes to their Autopilot driver assist system. We'll see what they're able to do as far as pushing their technology further to maintain a lead in the market.

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Stocks Mentioned

Tesla, Inc. Stock Quote
Tesla, Inc.
TSLA
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Toyota Motor Corporation Stock Quote
Toyota Motor Corporation
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General Motors Company Stock Quote
General Motors Company
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$32.19 (1.35%) $0.43
Luminar Technologies, Inc. Stock Quote
Luminar Technologies, Inc.
LAZR
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