On Oct. 12, for the first time a self-driving car hit Canadian public roads. This autonomous car wasn’t from Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Waymo, or Uber. It was from BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY). The same BlackBerry that was annihilated in the smartphone market it helped to pioneer.
The demonstration — which took place in Ottawa — was a reminder that BlackBerry happens to own QNX, the company that supplies software powering infotainment systems for nearly half the auto market. That BlackBerry self-driving car is a showcase of QNX’s move to developing software for autonomous vehicles.
If QNX succeeds, there are very real implications for BBRY stock.
BlackBerry Self-Driving Car Hits Ottawa Streets
The Toronto Star reported that the self-driving vehicle — with company executives and the city mayor as passengers — took to the street in Ottawa yesterday for a demonstration.
BBRY did cheat a little. The street was closed to the public while the car was on it, the traffic lights had been outfitted with transmitters that communicate with the car, the street lines had been freshly repainted and there were new LED street lights. And there was no snow …
But the event marked an important milestone for the company. It was also an important public display that the investment in the BlackBerry QNX Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre in Ottawa is paying off. At the time, that development was announced at the end of 2016, BBRY stock got a 4% bump, so investors are clearly interested in where this is going.
And for good reason.
The Benefit for BBRY Stock
The car that’s now on the streets of Ottawa isn’t a trial balloon for an actual BlackBerry self-driving car. The company is not going to be setting up dealerships and trying to sell these things. What it is doing is demonstrating that its QNX software can do the heavy lifting for auto makers who are looking to release their own autonomous cars. QNX wants to be the operating system for these self-driving vehicles.
It’s a similar approach to what QNX does with infotainment systems: provide the software foundation that does all the background work, but let the automakers put their own skin over it to customize the experience. For example, the QNX operating system powers Ford Motor Company’s (NYSE:F) Sync 3 infotainment system.
So, does this BlackBerry self-driving car effort have any potential upside for BBRY stock?
BlackBerry has very publicly pivoted from hardware to software as its primary source of revenue. The company doesn’t spike out QNX revenue, but at the start of the year, Business Insider spoke to a QNX executive who provided some numbers. In terms of infotainment systems, QNX has approximately 47% of the market and it is expecting to sell 36 million licenses this year at anywhere from $5 to $15 a pop.
That’s anywhere from $180 million to $540 million.
BlackBerry’s total revenue for fiscal 2016 was $2.16 billion, so clearly QNX is a significant part of that.
Studies suggest that by 2035, 25% of the new car market is expected to be comprised of vehicles with autonomous features. There were 88.1 million cars and light duty trucks sold worldwide in 2016, so the market for BlackBerry self-driving car software is considerable.
And presumably, it would be priced considerably higher than the QNX infotainment software license. That’s a significant upside for QNX revenue, and for BBRY stock.
BlackBerry formally announced its autonomous car ambitions at CES 2017. Getting a BlackBerry self-driving car on the road was a big step in showing that the QNX software has progressed to the point where the company can test it on public streets. That makes it a visible contender. And let’s face it, it was a point of pride that BlackBerry was first to get a self-driving car on its Canadian home turf.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.