There is a simple reason why traditional automakers will dominate the future of ground transportation: they have a lot of cash. Even vehicle manufacturers in trouble have a lot of money in the bank.
That’s why ridesharing giants Lyft and Didi were so anxious to get into bed with General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) is sharing its’ self-driving car technology with Fiat Chrysler. Despite all their well-publicized troubles big automakers still have money to burn, or invest in next generation vehicle technologies.
The Auto Industry’s Incredible Stash of Cash
The amount cash available to the global auto industry is absolutely incredible. Here is a list of cash and short-term investments reported by major auto brands, courtesy of our friends at ycharts.
Toyota Motor (NYSE: TM) – $43.08 billion (€37.70 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Daimler (OTC: DDAIF) – $25.74 billion (€22.61 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) – $4.007 billion (€3.51 billion) on March 31, 2017.
General Motors (NYSE: GM) – $23.12 billion (€20.23 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Honda Motor Company (NYSE: HMC) – $20.17 billion (€17.65 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Subaru (OTC: FUJHY) – $7.943 billion (€6.95 billion) on December 31, 2016.
Nissan Motor (OTC: NSANY) – $7.871 billion (€6.89 billion) on December 31, 2016.
Volkswagen (OTC: VLKA) – $46.79 billion (€40.95 billion) on March 31, 2017.
BMW (OTC: BAMXF) – $15.19 billion (€13.29 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM) – $8.122 billion (€7.11 billion) on March 31, 2017.
Cash is why Apple and Google want a Piece of the Car Business
These numbers explains why tech giants like Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) are so anxious to get into the auto business: it’s where the money is. Even a very troubled niche player like Tesla can quickly accumulate several billion dollars in cash very quickly in the automotive industry.
Alphabet’s leaders know that companies like Ford have the money to buy Waymo’s tech. Ford or Toyota would even be in a position to buy Waymo if Alphabet were to spin it off or put it on the market.
Waymo is Google’s self-driving car subsidiary; which is teaming up with Hertz Avis (NYSE: CAR) and Fiat Chrysler to test self-driving minivans as rideshare vehicles in Phoenix. Some analysts have valued Waymo at $70 billion (€61.26 billion) and given the auto industry’s cash reserves I would say that valuation is utterly realistic.
There is also a very strong possibility that Ford, Volkswagen or Toyota will buy Uber – which has some capabilities that rival Waymo’s. Uber was valued at $70 billion (€61.26 billion), before the series of scandals that brought about the downfall of its’ bad boy founder and CEO; Travis Kalanick.
Some auto companies are also experimenting with rideshare and short term car rentals. GM has its’ own rideshare and short-term car rental experiment called Maven, and BMW has launched a similar venture called Reach Now Ride in three U.S. cities. Fiat Chrysler, Alphabet and Avis (which owns Zipcar) are laying the groundwork for a similar venture in Phoenix under the guise of “testing self-driving vans.”
Are Automakers a Value Investment?
All this will have many people wondering if automakers are a value investment. My answer to that would be: some automakers are definitely a value investment.
This includes Tata; which was trading at $34.09 (€32.49) a share on June 27, 2017, Ford which was trading for $11.14 (€9.75) a share on the same day, Fiat Chrysler which was selling for $10.80 (€9.45) a share, GM which was trading for $34.38 (€30.09) a share, and Honda which was trading for $27.30 ($23.89). All of these companies are fantastically profitable and grossly undervalued.
They also have fantastic amounts of cash available, for example Honda reported a free cash flow of $4.156 billion (€3.54 billion) on March 31, 2017. Ford reported a free cash flow of $2.63 billion (€2.30 billion) on the same day. Ford also raked in $19.98 billion (€17.49 billion) in cash from operations during first quarter 2017, while Honda reported $11.40 billion (€9.98 billion) for cash from operations for the same period.
Can Anybody Else Make Money in the Auto Business?
The automakers are cash rich companies that are generating a lot of float which makes them a great value investment. Part of the reason for this is that automakers have figured out how to siphon off most of the cash from the vehicle business.
The car hire giant Avis-Budget reported a negative free cash flow of $-3.539 billion (€3.10 billion), a net income of $107 million (€93.64 million) and a profit margin of -5.82% despite generating $2.604 billion (€2.28 billion) in cash from operations in first quarter 2017. Unlike the automakers that supply its vehicles Avis reported $923 million (€807.77 million) in cash and short-term investments.
Part of the reason for this is obvious, automakers have figured out how to squeeze all the profit out of vehicles and effectively capture most of the money for themselves. Auto retailers like CarMax (NYSE: MAX) generate little cash; CarMax reported a net income of $663.31 million (€580.76 million) and cash and short term investments of $60.08 million (€52.58 million) on March 31, 2017.
The numbers for Avis and CarMax show us that other participants cannot make money in the auto business. They end up eating the scraps off the automakers’ tables, and might eventually collapse.
An Integrated Auto Industry is emerging
Such a situation might leave automakers with no retail outlets. That’s why both GM and BMW are experimenting with rental and rideshare. It is also why Tesla is experimenting with direct retail sales of vehicles. The good news here is that most of the carmakers have the resources for such experiments.
That makes auto stocks a great value investment for today and a good long term investment. Many of these companies are cheap and they have the cash and resources to dominate the business for generations to come.
Expect to see the big automakers get bigger; and generate more cash, in the years ahead as technology enables them to dominate the entire auto sales channel. At some point, Ford, GM, Toyota, and Volkswagen will not just make and finance the car; they will lease or sale it to you and even deliver it to your door if you want.
This new integrated auto industry is already emerging. Over in Europe a company called Alza is delivering Teslas to customers’ homes within 24 hours of ordering, Cryptocoins News reported. Elon Musk is also talking about repair crews that will service Teslas in the field.
The possibility of a totally-integrated auto industry will make carmakers even better value investments in the future. Invest now before it emerges because these companies will soon be flush with cash, and have stock values rivaling Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) if full auto industry auto integration arrives.
An earlier version of this story appeared at Mad Market House. Some numbers and text have been changed.