• Check out this week's video insight, where I delve into the potential of advanced technology WATCH NOW

How driverless cars will change our lives

How driverless cars will change our lives

Today, there are over 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads. Which means that the advent of autonomous vehicles is going to have a profound effect. Who will be the winners from this new, disruptive technology? Who will be the losers? And what changes are we likely to see?

We live in the age of technological disruption (we’ve written about it here). These advances have the potential to change the way businesses are run, towns are planned and the way we live life. Take the impact of the mobile phone, internet or automobile – whole towns had to be replanned away from the horse-and-cart model.

When looking at disruption, it’s important to remember that very few changes are truly transformative. It is reasonably safe to assume that we will continue to have advances in healthcare across the board. But most of these will be incremental.

Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that cars will become more efficient and internet speeds will increase. However, it is very rare that a disruptive idea comes along and completely transforms the way we function. There are certainly copious instances of underwhelming (or at least slower than expected) disruption[1].

But what about autonomous vehicles? Let’s start with an explanation of the term. Current research ranks the autonimity of cars in 6 levels:

Level 0: Humans hold all the power

Level 1: Humans hold all the power – BUT there’s a little help in a (some) specific function(s) eg. a little power steering

Level 2: The car has a mode in which a driver can take their hands off the wheel and pedal and the car will function e.g. cruise control/ lane cantering

Level 3: The car drives when it’s simple but the human takes over when it’s tricky e.g. traffic

Level 4: The car drives itself[2]! Humans can intervene and drive in unusual circumstances – like if you decide you’re James Bond for the day, or it’s snowing on a dirt road

Level 5: The car drives… no human necessary, you don’t need any steering wheel or pedals (oddly enough, this scares some people).

Ok great. Where are we up to? In terms of cars you can buy, Tesla’s hit level 2 and 3 in their latest releases. In terms of cars you can ride, Uber has autonomous cars ready for you in Pittsburgh and San Francisco (equipped with two engineers each) and Waymo’s at it too.

What are the implications? There are a raft of first, second and third order effects that would occur should this technology become mainstream.

For a start, driver jobs become threatened. In 2012, CEDA estimated that 28% of the Australian population had jobs involving driving. On the surface, that’s a big number – but remember technological change can create new jobs too[3].

No driving creates a lot of new time. The default transport option no longer involves focussing on the road – you’re free to conduct meetings, have lunch, sleep, shop or be entertained on the go. This creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers to capture your attention, but also retailers and service providers to offer in-commute services.

Third, we need to rethink car ownership, the value proposition of destinations and retailers, carparks, fuel stations, the current fleet of cars, use of roads, and how a town is laid out… the third order effects are extremely extensive.

To be clear, this article is a thought exercise. Can it happen? Yes – there are already autonomous vehicles. Will it be transformative? It can be – and will certainly make us question our road designs and rules.

BUT – it could also take a long time for regulators to become comfortable with driverless cars, towns to be redesigned and people to be comfortable with a car dropping their kids off to school. This is just one scenario in a range of uncertain futures that we need to consider.

[1]  Think of the below expected growth in smartwatches, virtual reality in the 90s, Google glasses, and things like the IOT hairbrush

[2] In certain environments and conditions

[3] A good read on this subject from the Economist can be found here: https://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21700758-will-smarter-machines-cause-mass-unemployment-automation-and-anxiety

This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564). The principal purpose of this post is to provide factual information and not provide financial product advice. Additionally, the information provided is not intended to provide any recommendation or opinion about any financial product. Any commentary and statements of opinion however may contain general advice only that is prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Because of this, before acting on any of the information provided, you should always consider its appropriateness in light of your personal objectives, financial circumstances and needs and should consider seeking independent advice from a financial advisor if necessary before making any decisions. This post specifically excludes personal advice.


Why every investor should read Roger’s book VALUE.ABLE


find out more



  1. Brett Edgerton

    I recall Buffett saying during a Squawkbox session around the time of last year’s annual meeting that for the first time in the 30 odd years that he had been privy to detailed insurance data that the incidence of single driver accidents had increased… without any actual data to back up his hypothesis, he suggested the cause may be the proliferation of the smart phone… at the time I agreed to myself and thought “yes, you can’t go for a 10 min drive in your car without seeing at least one person at lights distracted by their phone”…

    More recently I have been reflecting that it seems at lights almost half of all drivers are distracted by devices, as well as (more worrying) while driving in traffic and on occasions the drivers I have witnessed have been in heavy vehicles (trucks)…

    I personally think that once the technology is proven to be safe, autonomous vehicle acceptance in major metropolitan areas will rapid and profound – and may well be driven in part by regulation and enforcement, as well as preference…

    As someone who is not particularly status driven – I recently replaced my 15 year old camry with a 10 year old station wagon (because I appreciate the depreciation rate to reliability ratio of these cars) – when I thought about an alternative being a safe, highly efficient (appears at your door within 5 minutes of ordering through your app), and clean vehicular pod (no steering wheel) I suddenly had no desire to waste space in my home to park a vehicle or the logistical hassles of maintaining one…

    I honestly think that the biggest obstacle to overcome my envisioned future is the status symbol value of one’s own vehicle…

    But I do wonder whether younger Australians will quickly get over that – afterall, they certainly won’t have the big home in which to park a flashy vehicle because, well, they can’t afford one, can they? Certainly not both!

    • Lisa Fedorenko

      Some very interesting points there Brett.

      Safety and enforced regulation is certainly a strong argument for autonomous vehicles. SIRA estimate an 80% decrease in injuries to drivers and passengers should AVs become dominant, and, for the moment, early safety records are encouraging. There is certainly a case that this could accelerate take-up – and hopefully save lots of lives too.

      As for status symbols – you’re right that the decision of car ownership is unquestionably not purely economic. And what younger Australians can afford – there is evidence of millennials opting to rent not buy, uber not own, experience not buy – at least it means we get more avocado toast in the meantime.

  2. I like NVIDIA as a picks and shovels investment in the autonomous vehicle gold rush. Pretty disappointing that none of your funds seem to be invested.

    • feel free to share the metrics and investment thesis. If market size is not the reason, the metrics you supply will probably help explain why we aren’t invested. Rather than be disappointed, think about our stated investment philosophy and process. Every investment must meet our criteria.

Post your comments