Less than a month ago, yours truly here opined that General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) was arguably winning the autonomous car race by virtue of putting self-driving vehicles on the busy streets of Manhattan. Less than a week ago I also informed owners of GM stock that Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) may have pulled ahead in that race, albeit indirectly, when it placed some autonomous minivans on Phoenix’s roads that will sooner than later become a fleet of self-driving taxis.
Well, put General Motors back on top of the leaderboard. Even without saying exactly how just yet, the fact that the automaker has scheduled a conference call just to discuss the company’s “vision for an autonomous future,” speaks volumes about the readiness of its autonomous driving capabilities and plans.
The Future Is Getting Clearer
Just as a quick recap, or catch-up, the self-driving vehicle race is a little bit crowded. Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) won the first heat, in a sense, by being the first player to launch such a widely commercialized technology by adding what it calls “Enhanced Autopilot” to all of its higher-end vehicles,=. Though the platform isn’t technically an autonomous driving technology, it was a good start.
General Motors won the second wave, unveiling a small fleet of Chevrolet Bolts powered by the company’s third generation of self-driving software in September. The platform, called “Cruise,” is still too expensive to add to vehicles found in showrooms, but is expected to be utilized by managers of taxi fleets.
Then there’s Alphabet’s Waymo project, which kicked into higher gear just a few days ago by virtue of putting a bunch of self-driving Pacifica minivans on the roads of Phoenix. With just a proverbial flip of a switch these same minivans could become a commercialized fleet of ride-giving vehicles.
It all begs the question, what is it exactly that General Motors could be planning on saying to GM stock holders that they don’t know already?
Few have felt comfortable enough to suggest an answer.
Fast forward to last week, when former GM executive Bob Lutz, who is presumably still more or less in touch with the industry, told CNBC:
“It is absolutely inevitable. Human-driven vehicles are on their way out. From a standpoint of moving human beings around the surface of the planet safely and efficiently, let’s face it: It’s the only way to go. Human beings just can’t handle it anymore.”
Ride Hailing Services Are the New Norm
The commentary was most likely solicited in response to a piece Lutz had just written for Automotive News, in which he opined that vehicles “will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years – at the latest – human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.” Lutz’s outlook predicted the rise of Uber and Lyft as the brands of vehicles you would see on the road, though one can’t help but wonder if somehow General Motor’s Maven somehow is about to fit into the same picture.
Maven, for those not aware, is a vehicle-sharing experiment GM has been running for a while now. Though it’s not yet big enough to impact the GM stock price for the better or for the worse, that has not been the point. General Motors mostly wants to know what’s possible and what isn’t, and how drivers/riders will respond to sharing rather than outright owning a car.
The recent curious whispers about Maven? It’s interested in putting its self-driving Cruise technology in vehicles used by ride-hailing service Uber, though the technology could just as easily be utilized by Maven vehicles. Doing so would put General Motors right in the middle of a ride-sharing market that’s expected to be worth $285 billion by 2030, securing its share of that market by moving towards Lutz’s envisioned scenario.
Bottom Line for GM Stock
The conference call in question is slated for November 30th. Though the live event is only for analysts and institutional investors, all investors, owners of GM stock or not, will be able to access the replay.
Only time will tell what General Motors’ executives have planned. Given the pieces of the puzzle already put on the table though, it’s difficult to imagine it won’t look a lot like the suggesting melding of Maven and the company’s Cruise platform. It may be akin to the commercialized service Waymo is about to put on the road.
As of this writing, James Brumley held a long position in Ford Motor Co. You can follow him on Twitter.