TAKING STOCK: The future of self-driving cars

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Dear Mr. Berko:

I’ve invested $85,000 in five companies involved in the development and manufacturing of autonomous vehicles. Four of the five issues currently trade well below my cost basis. I am beginning to have doubts and wonder whether I should sell Aptiv, Volkswagen, Renault and General Motors. I’m profitable in Microsoft. What do you think about the future of autonomous vehicles? Should I dump my losses?

—AK, Cleveland


Dear AK:

Sell them all. Driving an autonomous vehicle is like washing your feet with your socks on. And the cost to put one of these things on the road today would break the banking system. I believe that most investments in AVs will be future money losers.

I’ve always wondered how flocks of hundreds of birds can fly about and then effortlessly and in unison change direction without bumping a beak or a wing feather. I’m always in awe while watching schools of thousands of fish gambol about smoothly beneath the water’s surface and then turn abruptly to avoid danger without leaving a wake or trail. Swarms of innumerable locusts, ants, beetles and mosquitoes seem to have anti-collision abilities embedded in their DNA, perfected by millions of years of afferent and efferent neuronal activity. And replicating that evolutionary growth would require a quantum computer bigger than Yankee Stadium.

Self-driving cars, buses, taxicabs and trucks were hyper-hyped by the Obama administration, which engorged the media with mountains of glowing prognostications about safety, fuel efficiency, timesaving, congestion reduction, improved mobility for elderly and children, personal productivity, reduced need for traffic enforcement personnel, etc. This is the stark magic of a dystopian future without personal choices, warmth, feeling, humor or emotion. And you can have all of this in your vehicle for as little as $200,000, with embedded sensors, software and clusters of reactive optics. On a lighter note, a concern that hasn’t been addressed is a driver’s right to seek compensation after an autonomous vehicle
accident. Geico can’t figure out how to price its policies for these newfangled vehicles. But not to worry, because they’re generations away.

For an extraordinary number of people, driving a car is a notably personal experience—like dancing the tango. Driving a car is a visceral experience; it can generate passion, drama, violence, sex, power or independence. It’s emotional in nature, and it’s a primal stirring of your senses. Driving a car is a way of meeting like-minded people, of mingling and getting together with the opposite sex. Driving a car is also a personal statement, a kind of entertainment that often leads to structured socializing among co-workers, admirers, neighbors and friends. Driving a car is an uncommonly special freedom. It’s a Zen experience, an emancipation of the psyche and soul from a world of coefficients, calculus, algorithms and qubits. Driving a car gives a sense of personal control over your environment.

Driverless cars, a big yawn, may be as successful as the Edsel and Google Glass. There will be a frantic initial rush to own one, but just as with the Edsel and Google Glass, revenues will gush and then sputter. The failure to sell sufficient numbers of these cars to generate a return on investment could financially destabilize many of the smaller companies and hurt some of the bigger companies involved in their development, production and sales. Autonomous vehicle technology could work well with buses, which could be preprogrammed to make stops, and with long-haul trucks and taxis traveling from point A to point B. But AVs will be an ignominious failure if they are retailed to large numbers of consumers or those who delight in circumbendibus routes. For example, someone who’s not well-versed in operating computers might become confused driving to CVS in Wapakoneta and end his journey in Cucamonga.
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Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at mjberko@yahoo.com. To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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