Alphabet Inc Is Winning the Self-Driving Taxi Race

Late last month, yours truly here read some things between the lines regarding the sizeable investment Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) made in ride-sharing service Lyft. Chief among those possibilities was the notion that Alphabet’s (well, Google’s technically) self-driving automobile project called Waymo was within sight of commercialization.

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It wasn’t an idea all owners of GOOGL stock agreed with. Indeed, I even conceded “Meaningful commercialization of Waymo, whether it be through Lyft or through Uber or through both is still miles away.” As it turns out, however, even my optimism didn’t give Waymo enough credit.

If you didn’t think Waymo was for real (or real enough to pose a threat to the ride-hailing industry) this might change your mind.

Waymo Hits the Streets, Alone

While Alphabet’s decision to invest $1 billion in Lyft was made all the more interesting in light of the fact that Alphabet was also an early supporter of rival Uber, the potential business partnership is highlighted by this week’s report that Waymo-driven minivans are now cruising the streets of Phoenix without a driver behind the wheel just in case things go wrong. It’s a testament to the confidence the company has in its driving system.

Alphabet’s Waymo isn’t the world’s first fully-autonomous driving system, to be fair. Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) offers what it calls “Enhanced Autopilot,” which can take the wheel as long as there’s a driver in the driver’s seat that makes such a request. Though CEO Elon Musk isn’t entirely sure the computer doing the driving is powerful enough to meet government safety standards, clearly the know-how is within reach.

Then there’s General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), which put an self-driven (though still manned) vehicle on the streets of Manhattan last month after previously putting its autonomous car technology through its paces on less-busy roads.

There’s a noticeable difference between what GM, Tesla, Waymo and a handful of other outfits are doing in the self-driving car arena though, a difference future and current GOOGL stockholders may want to take note of. That is, where as Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot and GM’s “Cruise” platforms are designed for consumer-oriented cars, Waymo increasingly looks like it was built from the ground up to serve as the brains of a self-driving fleet of taxis that will put Alphabet in the transportation business.

It matters. According to Goldman Sachs’ outlook, the ride-hailing industry could be worth $285 billion by the year 2030, handily surpassing the taxi industry itself. Taking the driver, one of the most expensive pieces of the taxi business, out of the equation makes the business just that much more profitable.

That’s not to suggest General Motors or another autonomous driving developer can’t or won’t come up with a ride-sharing solution of its own. In fact, GM is a Lyft investor as well, and reportedly is in talks with Uber to come up with some sort of partnership that benefits both parties. General Motors is already mulling adding an autonomous driving dimension to its taxi-like service called Maven Gig.

GM seems tentative to forge ahead on that front though, while Alphabet has put the pedal to the metal.

Bottom Line for GOOGL Stock

Don’t get overly excited just yet, as this is hardly a reason in and of itself to step into a new position in GOOGL stock. What the future holds is very unclear, and it remains to be seen if Alphabet is looking to pair up with Lyft, make amends with Uber, team up with both, or do its own thing; Alphabet may not even yet know what its plans are.

What Alphabet and GOOGL stock owners do know, however, is that Waymo is more ready to commercialize the idea than any of its would-be rivals are, as it’s already safely driving seven-passenger minivans around Phoenix. Adding paying passengers is the relatively easy part from here.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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