In 2017, you can buy a personal flying drone and film from hundreds of feet in the air. You can even watch the latest award-winning films directly from your couch. You can’t, however, waltz into a car dealership and buy a self-driving car.
Sure, you could buy a Tesla with “Autopilot” features or hail an experimental, self-driving Uber in select cities. Yet buying your own self-driving car is a few years and several laws away from becoming a reality. While every company under the sun is currently developing one (Tesla being the most talked about), the technology is still in development and most cities and states won’t allow it just yet.
Some company don’t even want you to buy a self-driving car in the near future. Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber’s future self-driving fleet will treat cars as a service, not something you buy, pay off over time, and spend hundreds on insurance. They’ll simply give you a car when you need it, get you where you want to be, and charge you anything they please.
Other companies, like the aforementioned Tesla, are taking a different approach and making self-driving cars a lucrative future investment. While these future cars will be more expensive than the average vehicle, they could end up paying for themselves…and then some.
Tesla’s Elon Musk imagines self-driving cars as a second source of income.
While Tesla’s Autopilot features are very basic and don’t allow you to fall asleep in the driver’s seat, future Tesla vehicles will be able to drive themselves — even when you’re not in the vehicle. The idea is for the company to compete with Uber and Lyft by using Tesla owners’ vehicles when they’re not using them. If you needed a ride and didn’t own a Tesla, someone else’s Tesla with self-driving capabilities will pick you up, drop you off, and return to the owner when they need their car. Tesla will definitely take a cut from each trip, but car owners will earn money from each trip their car takes with someone else.
A GM-founded company is currently doing the same thing without actual ownership or self-driving capabilities.
Maven, an independent company once owned by GM, lets users pay for the use of a car each month. The membership costs include insurance, a parking spot, and $100 for gas. It also lets members share the same vehicle. While this isn’t direct car ownership, it’s not too far off from what Tesla is proposing. Once these cars become self-driving, the only difference between Tesla and Maven will be the lack of income.
Once Tesla’s car-sharing network is established, other car manufacturers will likely follow suit.
Despite Uber’s terrible PR problem and loss of billions, the company’s services are highly in demand and potentially profitable. Aside from simply making cars, manufacturers can also get in on the action, enter the ride-sharing business, and diversify their revenue streams. This would allow them to sell cars and make money on rides taken with those cars — even if the owner isn’t behind the wheel.
Should you invest in self-driving cars? The business isn’t much of a business yet, as it’s stuck in the research and development phase. Yet self-driving vehicles will undoubtedly be everywhere ten years from now, and investing in the future of automotive tech might be good for your portfolio. (Just make sure you do your research first).
Investing in self-driving cars by actually buying those cars in the future will be a great investment. Regardless of whether or not they help expand your income, these cars will provide a safer, easier way of getting around without having to pay attention to the road. When ride-sharing networks and self-driving cars become a thing, you might want to look into them…before everyone else does the same.