By on October 23, 2017

GM Cruise self-driving Testing

“Mobility” is easily the most overused term in today’s automotive vernacular. Despite being incredibly nonspecific, executives can’t help but make it the bookend of most speeches involving long-term goals and production stratagems. But why?

The term itself pertains more to the industry itself than the specific products it’s developing. While “mobility” can be applied to any conveyance with a technological bent, the word also represents a company’s ability to move into other areas of business. And that’s what gets the investors and market analysts tugging at their collective collar, damp across the brow, so red hot they can’t help but raise the stock valuation of any company that seems poised to make a big move.

Tesla’s entry as novel manufacturer with a unique product was enough to send its share price through the roof, and established automakers took notice. Despite Mark Fields’ best attempt to rebrand Ford as a tech company, he couldn’t bottle that same lightning and paid the ultimate price — getting fired. However, General Motors may be succeeding where Ford initially failed. The proof of the pudding is how high its share prices continue to climb. 

Increasing by 17 percent in the past month alone, GM’s share price is now higher than ever. The largest contributing factor has everything to do with the mobility angle. Chevrolet has released a well-received electric vehicle, Cadillac has unveiled its semi-autonomous Super Cruise system, and Maven is coming at ride-sharing from all angles. Add in General Motors’ ambitious test fleet of self-driving electric cars and you’ve got a recipe that’s causing investment analysts to double over with erotic pleasure.

They love this sort of thing. So much so that there seems to be an underlying phobia on Wall Street that traditional automotive manufacturing might die out if companies don’t branch out into other arenas.

“Investors and the startups in Silicon Valley assume that GM and the other car companies are dinosaurs and it’s just not true,” Morningstar Inc. analyst David Whiston told Bloomberg. “It’s not like they just started working on autonomous cars because of Tesla.”

However, the attitude that tech companies will pave the way to autonomous technologies is changing. Automakers have a huge advantage here. They know the hardware better than anyone and possess the means to procure the missing technology necessary to bridge the gap, then test it relentlessly.

As a result, investors have begun betting that General Motors and its ilk will probably be the first groups to effectively field self-driving cars. Ford is also preparing an autonomous fleet for taxi and delivery services and, after a news spree in August, its share price also crept upward for the first time in a while. But the big money is still on GM, according to Bloomberg. Investors the world over are hyping up GM as the next big thing on Wall Street.

“Traditional automakers, and GM especially, are fundamentally better businesses today than they have been in the past,” wrote Barclays analyst Brian Johnson in a note to clients. “Whereas previously investors viewed GM as a dying dinosaur, investor attitude seems to be rotating that GM is instead an evolving mammal.”

Johnson raised his price target for General Motors’ shares from $41 to $55. Still, on a longer timeline, some investors are prepared to speculate much higher than that. Earlier this month, Citi’s Itay Michaeli claimed the automaker could climb as high as $134 per share — attributing some of that valuation to a hypothetical robotic taxicab business GM doesn’t currently possess. Analysts have suggested spinning off that not-yet-real company would be worth an estimated $30 billion.

So, if you were hoping this mobility talk would die out, you’re in for some disappointment. Investors still absolutely love the tech industry and the more tech-focused and diversified automakers become, all the better for their share price.

Enthusiasts may look at the finished products and wonder if it’s too complicated, too expensive, and not-yet proven. But investors won’t. They’ll catch a whiff of circuit board, hear someone say “mobility,” and recommend buying — leaving automakers with little recourse but to press aggressively onward.

[Image: General Motors]

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13 Comments on “If You’re Wondering Why Automakers Can’t Stop Talking About Mobility, Wonder No More...”


  • avatar
    Dan R

    The car looks like a horny toad. When are the good looking cars coming back?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Never.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Never. Once full autonomy is possible with a EV chassis, there will be no need for the traditional 3 box shape and all cars will just become square pod cars. Once the driver seat position is no longer necessary, designers can turn the interior into a rolling lounge, but they will need more space to do that.

      I think traditional car shapes will remain on personal use cars that you drive yourself, but on your autonomous car – that you probably rent out on the side – they will just become boxes.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    The thing is,Wall Street might actually be right about this one.

    For the first time in decades,many urban areas are reporting reduced car ownership rates. There is likely enough data behind why thats so to fill the Grand Canyon with paper, but times are a changing

    While the current generation of rideshare apps like Turo and Uber have their issues, once the bugs get ironed out traditional car ownership will be in trouble. Why buy a BMW and deal with BMW costs all the time when you can rent someone else’s M4 for the rare times you can actually drive it for fun?

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    “Despite being incredibly nonspecific”

    It’s broad by necessity. Mobility in this context just means “moving people and things around as part of everyday life”.

    Automakers discuss it a lot because “mobility” is the actual product they are selling to most of their non-enthusiast customers.

    Your average car buyer doesn’t actually want a car, insamuch as they don’t want to own $30k worth of depreciating glass and metal for its own sake. They want to move people and objects from one place to another in speed and comfort; to get the kids to school and the groceries home. The car is just a tool that provides that.

    Now that technology is poised to offer serious mobility alternatives to the traditional car it makes sense that automakers are pursuing those alternatives.

    Remember how people used to buy actual physical records, cassette tapes, and CDs? Turns out that very few people actually wanted to own those objects, and mostly only bought them because customers wanted the actual product: music. Once technology made streaming and digital music possible sales of traditional music media fell off a cliff.

    Essentially the same thing is happening with traditional cars. An automaker would be foolish to bet entirely against it.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      I went all OCD over a couple of snow days and converted all my CD’s to digital. My phone and couple of thumb drives (one is a backup) hold all my music. My bus stop has a number that is used for GPS tracking my bus. My bus ride is around 2$ and goes to the subway after several stops. Would myself and three other people pay $2.50 each for a direct ride to the subway? Me? oh yes; other people? probably. That’s when mobility solutions will become real. On a lighter note, I can envision someone reading a PowerPoint slide and saying “Our mobility solutions will be cloud based and we will leverage these synergies to provide value-added benefits to the customer”

  • avatar

    I think I have one of these new mobility vehicles. It has a bluetooth, I think.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m still convinced that FCA has a chance to survive, or last longer than expected, because it doesn’t have the billion$ other car makers will be throwing at “mobility” and electric cars, and will have to stick with the lowly internal combustion engine and traditional vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I don’t think Ford will be killing the F-Series anytime soon, no matter how many autonomous mobility pods it brings to market. Same with GM and the other automakers.

      Besides, FCA is already pursuing the autonomous market with a fleet of Pacifica Hybrids, although they aren’t developing the technology in-house.

      I don’t think the ICE is doomed just yet, but God help us if FCA becomes the only choice for them.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I think FCA is doing autonomous cars the right way, leveraging a partnership with companies where that is their mission. FCA builds the cars, vans or pods, Waymo does the rest.

        Not a bad idea, actually.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Please note that “technology” is not a synonym for “computer software”.

    All of the following are technologies:

    Vapor-compression refrigeration systems
    Ackerman steering
    Hydraulically actuated automatic planetary gear transmissions
    Deep drawing of high strength steel body panels
    Nodular cast iron crankshafts
    Front and rear crush zones for crash safety
    Radial tires
    Catalytic converters
    High strength high integrity die castings of light metals
    Fiber-reinforced plastic suspension springs
    Selective placement of laminar and turbulent flow patterns and the transition between these regimes for minimum aerodynamic drag

    Etc
    Etc
    Etc.

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