Business, Life

What is the investment angle on driverless cars?

For the past three years I have been telling everyone that will listen that driverless cars will arrive within our lifetimes, and that my two-year old daughter won’t need a driving licence.  Today, that vision came a step closer, as the British government signalled that driverless cars would be allowed on British roads from 1st January 2015.  I am absolutely convinced that they will be the biggest technological revolution that the world has seen since the microprocessor, if not the internal combustion engine.

There are of course many legal issues to resolve. Will the driverless cars require a passenger who could step in if necessary? Will that passenger have to be a qualified driver? Who (if anyone) is at fault if a driverless car collides with another vehicle, a child in the road, or a tree? And, for the philosophers out there, if a driverless car has insufficient braking distance to stop in time to prevent it hitting three schoolchildren who have run into the road, would an algorithm tell it to mount the pavement and kill the one adult walking there?

However, I’m an optimist. I think these issues will be resolved. I think this technology will benefit everyone. But my real interest is, who will it benefit most and least. In other words, what is the investment angle? Who will be the unexpected beneficiaries of massively reliable, cheap and on-demand transport? Rural pubs? Leisure facilities for older people? And who to short? NCP and Addison Lee? Arriva?


Automotive nationalism

Over dinner last night, a German colleague was mocking the fact that Jaguar Land Rover was now in the hands of the Indian Tata Group. I don’t find automotive nationalism any more endearing than the standard kind, especially when it is so misplaced.

Jaguar and Land Rover have been American (under Ford Motors) more recently than they have been British. And what is wrong with Indian stewardship? Any nation that can keep British steam locomotives hauling massive loads on daily services well into their second working century can be trusted to guard and preserve British engineering. The Morris Oxford is India’s favourite car.

Most importantly, the cars that have come out of JLR in the Tata era have been absolutely superb: see the recent relaunch of the Range Rover Sport. So much so, in fact, that my dream garage at the moment consists of a new-model Range Rover Autobiography and an F-Type V8 S (to sit alongside the admittedly not-at-all-British ultragadget that is the Mission R). Even in matching grey, they’d make the German line-up of a Porsche Cayenne and a Mercedes SL look dull.