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The Connected Car: Which Company Will Sell You One First?

Traditional auto makers and high-tech companies have been racing toward the culmination of the connected car: driverless vehicles.

connected car googl aapl ddaif vlkay nsany

At the moment, companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) and BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) are fighting over control of the vehicle infotainment system. Apple has CarPlay, Google has Android Auto, and BlackBerry’s QNX is the platform underlying many of these in-dash systems.

Meanwhile, many autos are available with their own LTE connection — so everyone can stay connected while driving — and mobile apps are able to do everything from honk a car’s horn to remotely start it.

But, the real prize is driverless cars, automobiles that free us from the need to focus on the road, removing human error from the equation. Many companies are working toward this goal, but the most public effort to date has been the Google Self-Driving Car Project.

We’re a way yet from being able to buy driverless cars. Besides the technical obstacles, there are legal and insurance issues to deal with, but it seems likely to happen, eventually. When it does, who will be the first to sell you one? A technology company, or one of today’s auto giants?

We list five candidates from least to most likely.

The Connected Car (Race to Driverless Cars): Apple

A few months ago, Apple’s connected car ambitions seemed limited to CarPlay, its effort to integrate the iPhone and iOS to become the heart of an automobile’s infotainment system.

connected car, apple carplay

Source: Apple

Then, mysterious minivans bearing the Apple logo began showing up on San Francisco streets, fuelling rumors the company was up to a lot more than CarPlay. Within days, reports surfaced that Apple had hired hundreds of engineers to work on an electric car project.

Likelihood of Apple being first to sell a driverless car: Very low. Despite the recent publicity, it seems more probable that Apple’s auto ambitions are limited to a battery-powered vehicle to take on Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA).

The Connected Car (Race to Driverless Cars): Mercedes

Daimler AG’s (OCTMKTS:DDAIF) Mercedes-Benz was showing off a self-driving car in 2013 and predicting it would have one for sale by 2020.

connected car, mercedes-benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

The company is currently making the auto show rounds with the F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle. Mercedes describes it as an autonomous “luxury lounge,” working on the assumption that passengers will treat their connected car as a living space once relieved of the chore of actually driving it.

Likelihood of Mercedes being first to sell a driverless car: It seems more likely that Mercedes will use the F 015 as a technology showcase, while continuing to add lower-risk semi-autonomous features (like driverless parking) to its vehicles.

The Connected Car (Race to Driverless Cars): Audi

Audi is one of the premium brands under the umbrella of parent company Volkswagen AG (OTCMKTS:VLKAY).

connected car audi driverless car vlkay

Source: Audi

In the past, Audi has been a pioneer in automotive technology, such as all-wheel-drive.

In 2009, it decided to take on the challenge of driverless cars, or what the company calls “piloted driving.” Audi was an early pioneer in testing driverless cars on U.S. roads, and its advances culminated at CES 2015, where an Audi A7 drove itself 550 miles from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

Likelihood of Audi being first to sell a driverless car: Despite impressive engineering feats (including running a driverless car at 143 mph) and a commitment to getting driverless cars in showrooms for 2016, Audi is hesitant when it comes to city driving. Company representatives throw out timelines of “10, 15, 20 years” for urban environments. Driverless only on the highway is a step in the right direction, but until a connected car requires no human driver at all, it doesn’t count.

The Connected Car (Race to Driverless Cars): Nissan

Like Mercedes, Nissan (OTCMKTS:NSANY) also proclaimed its intention to release a driverless car by 2020.

connected car Nissan driverless car nsany

Source: Nissan

However, Nissan seems to have the determination to follow through with the bravado. It also has a proven track record of pushing out high-tech vehicles (its Leaf electric car is an industry leader) and it has a high-profile, high-tech partner in NASA.

Nissan has actually been working on prototype driverless electric cars for several years and in 2013 had one of its Leaf electric cars running on autopilot.

The company has a plan to slowly roll out advanced features like automatic lane centering, automatic highway exiting and automatic stopping at red lights, building towards a fully driverless connected car. It has permission from the Japanese government to road test these capabilities in its home market.

Likelihood of Nissan being first to sell a driverless car: The Japanese automaker’s track record for pursuing new technology and a willingness to release low-volume, high-tech vehicles makes it the most likely of the big automakers to win the race to sell you a driverless car.

The Connected Car (Race to Driverless Cars): Google

If there’s one company whose name has become synonymous with driverless vehicles, it’s Google.

connected car Google driverless car goog googl

The company has been actively working on a connected car that could drive itself for half a decade. Vehicles equipped with its technology have been licensed to drive in several states, and by 2014 its vehicles had logged 700,000 miles of autonomous driving.

The company is now moving from bolting equipment to production cars from existing auto manufacturers to building its own prototype driverless cars that do away with traditional equipment like steering wheels altogether.

Likelihood of Google being first to sell a driverless car: Google is not a car company. However, it’s clearly in the lead when it comes to connected car technology, and it’s been doggedly stubborn about continuing to invest time and resources into its driverless car project. Google says to expect its driverless cars to go into mass production between 2017 and 2020. Given the advanced state of its program, there’s good reason to believe the company just might hit that goal.

As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, https://investorplace.com/2015/03/connected-car-googl-aapl-ddaif-vlkay-nsany/.

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