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商业 - 科技

在自动驾驶时代,传统车企会面临灭顶之灾吗?

财富中文网 2016年09月12日

在即将带来的自动驾驶时代,传统汽车厂商的股价注定要从顶峰跌到低谷吗?可能不会。

从投资者的角度来看,汽车业最糟糕的特性之一就在于它的可预测性。经济增长时,汽车公司会从中受益,而经济下行总会不可避免地拖累汽车销量。

此时此刻,行业观察家正在目睹这一幕,即便2017年的车型已经开始进入经销商的车库。今年上半年,汽车业的收入增长7.8%,达到1518亿美元。汽车和卡车销量大有超越2015年的近1750万辆之势。但是摩根士丹利分析师亚当·乔纳斯表示,现在的繁荣境况只是“一场加时赛”:在汽车业连续六年实现增长后,今年8月汽车的销量同比下滑4%。投资者已经开始猜测这场狂欢何时结束。今年,标准普尔500汽车制造商指数下跌了8%。通用、福特、菲亚特克莱斯勒、丰田——真见鬼,甚至还有科技宠儿特斯拉——的股价,都大大低于2014年或2015年的峰值。

那么,这些汽车厂商的股票注定要走上老路,从顶峰跌到低谷吗?这次可能不会。随着汽车成为创新的中心领域,汽车厂商上次陷入困境时并未出现的一个因素,将在这次发挥作用。显然,这个因素就是无人驾驶技术的发展,它将在不远的未来颠覆汽车业的商业模式,改变汽车厂商和投资者的盈利途径。尽管现在猜测哪家公司将在无人驾驶汽车领域的军备竞赛中脱颖而出,还为时过早,但目前汽车厂商股价的下降循环,可以让投资者以低廉的价格提早押下一些赌注。

汽车业知情人士认为,在这个自动驾驶技术逐渐普及的世界,整个驾驶文化都会转变。愿意拥有汽车的人会变少,更多人只会在需要的时候去租车。表面上,这听起来像是汽车厂商的巨大灾难:汽车销量降低,就意味着收入的下滑。

不过还有两个因素可以缓解这种悲观情绪。首先,任何转变都是逐渐的、不完全的。共享汽车最适合的,是纽约或旧金山这类以交通拥挤著称的大都市。其次,无人驾驶无法满足所有司机的需求,所以汽车厂商在很长一段时间内,仍然会有巨大的“传统”汽车消费者群体。

此外,还有一些分析师认为无人驾驶文化可能会给汽车厂商带来盈利更丰厚的商业模式——不仅销售汽车,还销售服务。花旗集团分析师伊泰·麦考利表示,汽车厂商不仅可以通过卖汽车(给消费者和拼车服务提供商)获利,还会利用你驾驶的“每一英里收费”。福特或通用汽车可以把车卖给你或租给你,由于你不用开车,他们还能再卖给你一些服务(例如流媒体电影)。麦考利表示,这种模式可以给汽车厂商带来两倍于现在的可变利润,更妙的是,它还能摆脱消费者驱动的高峰和低谷“循环”。

不过这种理论有一个巨大的问题。海纳国际集团(Susquehanna International Group)分析师马修·斯托弗表示:“必须有人创造一种强大的商业模式”,而目前还没有人做到这一点。所以,尽管汽车制造商急切地想要开发出这种商业模式——无论是通过合作、研发还是并购,投资者依然会认为在当下购买任何汽车厂商的股票,都意味着对如今汽车行业的一次赌博,以及对未来的投机式赌博。

在美国汽车业巨头中,通用汽车对新一代驾驶技术的公开投入最大。该公司给拼车服务商Lyft投资了5亿美元,还斥资10亿美元收购了生产自动驾驶汽车感应器和软件的硅谷初创公司Cruise Automation,此外还有一些其他投入。Fidelity Select Automotive Portfolio公司投资组合经理安妮·罗森表示,仅仅基于这些因素就投资通用汽车,将是“真正投机性的举动”。不过从其他因素分析,购买通用汽车的股票却是合理的选择。在不到32美元的股价上,通用汽车目前的市盈率约为4倍,远低于行业平均值(9倍)——当然,它更是远远不及标普500指数荒谬的20倍市盈率。欢迎光临汽车业循环的春天。通用汽车已经承诺在2017年底前出资90亿美元回购股票,他们试图让投资者相信,即使衰退来临,他们的收益仍会增加。斯托弗表示,“虽然你在上一轮衰退期破了产,市场下一次并不会放你一马。”

如果投资者无意购买通用汽车的股票,那么他们绝对早已抛弃了福特。在过去18个月,福特股价下跌了28%,部分原因在于该公司不合时宜地把赌注押在了环保汽车上。由于油价跳水,这类汽车的销量并不好。截至8月,采用福特环保EcoBoost引擎的Fiesta和Focus的销量在2016年已经下滑了17%。而8月的福特汽车销量也同比下降8%。斯托弗表示:“这只股票一直面临巨大的压力”,并补充道,福特下调盈利预期的举动说明,“该公司已经证实了这种忧虑。”

不过,销量的走低并未让福特停止谋划自动驾驶技术领域。该公司计划在2021年推出一款没有方向盘和脚踏板的汽车,目前正与四家初创公司就此展开合作。摩根士丹利的乔纳斯表示,这个相对让福特在“人才竞争”中获得优势,因为他们要与苹果、谷歌母公司Alphabet、其他科技公司,以及其他汽车巨头争夺软件人才。

讨论新一代汽车时,没有人可以忽略特斯拉。在首席执行官伊隆·马斯克的领导下,这家先驱性的公司已经通过其autopilot自动驾驶功能为汽车植入了一些有限的无人驾驶技术。与其他厂商不同,特斯拉并没有受到经济周期的影响,因为他们面对的奢侈品消费者有能力掏出9万美元甚至更多钱来买车。其Model 3轿车起售价约为3.5万美元,预计将在2017年底上市。说也奇怪,这款车可能会让该公司更易受到经济衰退的影响,因为一般收入的消费者也会成为他们的客户。不过,考虑到特斯拉的盈利能力堪忧,以及《财富》已经详细披露的现金流问题,许多投资者对特斯拉现在的股价分外警惕。特斯拉即将对SolarCity展开的收购,也给这只股票的投资前景蒙上了一层阴影。Argus Research公司的比尔·舍里斯基表示,未来的特斯拉不仅卖汽车和电池,还会卖太阳能板,这会“稀释整个故事”。

特斯拉的故事更加凸显了一个事实:我们很难在上市公司中找到一家“纯粹经营”无人驾驶汽车的特例。大多数后台无人驾驶感应器和软件制造商都有相当多元化的业务。例如,电子产品、引擎和安全系统生产商德尔福公司(Delphi Auto-motive)的确生产无人驾驶汽车使用的感应器,其中一些还被新加坡陆路交通管理局的试点项目采用。但在该公司高达150亿美元的总营收中,无人驾驶业务的贡献率还不到2%。乔纳斯表示,随着技术的发展,“我们认为该公司占据了一个有利位置”,但它还无法成为德尔福对抗汽车业传统周期的“安全避风港”。

MobilEye可能是唯一一家只开发无人驾驶技术的公司。该公司目前生产用于二级无人驾驶汽车的软件和感应器。按照监管部门的分类,二级无人驾驶汽车可以实现一些自动功能——你可能很快就能在经销商的车库中看到这种汽车。不过随着汽车厂商开始自行研发软件,MobilEye的市场占有率可能会下降。此外,其股价也并不便宜。

观察未来十年汽车业的发展会是一件很有趣的事情。不过想要等到投资获得重大回报,还需要很长时间。

做好长期奋斗的准备

自动驾驶技术想要给汽车厂商和汽车供应商带来巨大的收入,可能还需要十年甚至更长时间。不过这并没有阻止业内巨头们摩拳擦掌地迎接即将到来的竞争。

通用汽车

大手笔:斥资10亿美元收购自动驾驶技术初创公司Cruise Automation,给拼车服务商Lyft投资5亿美元。

大形势:2016年上半年,其北美销售额下跌11%,但股票的市盈率刚过4倍。通用汽车计划回购90亿美元的股票,以此鼓励投资者坚守。

福特汽车

大手笔:计划在2021年前推出一款没有方向盘和脚踏板的汽车。

大形势:福特的股价在过去18个月里下跌了近三分之一,其部分原因在于油价跳水——该公司在小型汽车上做出了大量投入,但随着油价降低,小型车的人气有所降低。当然,下跌的股价也可能会涨回来。与此同时,福特提供了近5%的股息。

特斯拉

大手笔:收购SolarCity可以降低特斯拉电池技术的成本,增加电池续航能力,还能带来其他一些好处。

大形势:针对大众市场的Model 3将于明年年底上市。这可能会是公司实现盈利的转折点。不过一些投资者担心收购SolarCity会让该公司的财务状况出现问题。

德尔福

大手笔:在新加坡测试自动驾驶汽车的感应器。

大形势:自动驾驶技术只贡献了德尔福收入的不足2%,但长期来看,公司在车用电子设备和安全系统上的丰富经验会给他们带来优势。摩根士丹利汽车业分析师亚当·乔纳斯认为德尔福在技术革命的浪潮中“占据了有利位置”。(财富中文网)

译者:严匡正

审校:任文科

One of the auto industry’s worst attributes, from an investor’s standpoint, is its predictability. While car companies benefit when the economy rises, the road always turns back downhill, and automobile sales inevitably shift into reverse.

Industry watchers can see this dynamic playing out right now, even as 2017 models begin to roll onto dealers’ lots. In the first half of this year the auto industry’s revenues hit $151.8 billion, up 7.8% from the previous year. Vehicle sales are on pace to top the nearly 17.5 million cars and trucks sold in 2015. But the current run is “in extra innings,” says Adam Jonas, an analyst for Morgan Stanley: After six years of almost uninterrupted growth, August car sales dropped a sobering 4% year over year. And investors are already anticipating the end of the party. The S&P 500 Automobile Manufacturer’s index has dropped 8% this year. Shares of General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler FCAU 1.49% , Toyota TM -1.16% —heck, even tech darling Tesla—are all well below their 2014 or 2015 peaks.

So are auto stocks doomed to the same old repetitive commute from peak to trough? Maybe not. As cars become the epicenter of innovation, there’s a factor in play this time around that was absent the last time carmakers struggled. That, of course, is the rise of autonomous-driving technology, which could upend the business model of the industry in the not-too-distant future—in ways that carmakers and their investors could profit from. While it’s far too early to pick winners in the self-driving-car arms race, the current down cycle in auto stocks could let investors place some early bets at bargain prices.

Auto industry ¬insiders believe that in a world where self-driving tech becomes commonplace, the whole culture of driving will shift. Fewer people would own vehicles, and more would rent cars only when needed. (Think Uber, all the time, but driverless.) On the surface that sounds like a 70-car pileup in the making for automakers: Fewer car sales, after all, should mean less revenue.

But there are two factors that ease the pessimism. The first is that any shift will be both gradual and incomplete. Car-¬sharing works best in densely packed cities like New York or San Francisco, for example. And autonomous driving won’t fit the needs of all drivers, so the automakers will still have a big “traditional” car customer base for a long time.

What’s more, some analysts believe an autonomous-driving culture may actually give automakers a more profitable business model—one in which they sell services as well as vehicles. CitigroupC -0.46% analyst ItayMichaeli says automakers will profit not just by selling vehicles (to consumers and to ride-sharing services) but also through “revenues per mile” driven. Ford or GM could sell you or rent you the ride, and sell you services you consume while you’re not driving (streamed movies, for example). Michaeli says this model could let car manufacturers bring in double the amount of variable profits that they make today, and better yet, move “beyond the cycle” of consumer-driven peaks and troughs.

There’s one big problem with this theory: “Somebody has to create a compelling business model,” says Susquehanna International Group analyst ¬Matthew Stover, and nobody has done it yet. So while automakers angle to make it happen—whether through partnerships, R&D, or acquisition—investors should think of any present-day auto stock play as both a bet on today’s car industry and a very speculative bet on the future.

Among the companies with a big U.S. market presence, General Motors GM -0.12% has made the biggest public commitment to the new generation of driving tech. Along with other moves, it has invested $500 million in ride-sharing service Lyft and spent just over $1 billion to acquire Cruise Automation, a Silicon Valley startup that makes sensors and software for self-driving cars. Investing in GM based on those factors alone would be “a really speculative move,” notes Annie Rosen, portfolio manager of the Fidelity Select Automotive Portfolio. But it looks like a decent buy for other reasons. At under $32 a share, GM trades at just above four times earnings, which is far below the industry average of nine (and of course, far below the S&P 500’s absurd 20). Welcome to life in the auto cycle. GM has authorized $9 billion to buy back stock through the end of 2017: It’s trying to convince investors that it will still grow its earnings, even if a recession occurs. “When you went bankrupt last time” there was a recession, Stover says, “the market is not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

If investors have avoided GM of late, they’ve absolutely punished Ford Motor F 1.36% . Its shares have fallen 28% over the past 18 months, partly because the company made an ill-timed bet on eco-friendly cars, which haven’t sold as well since the price of gas plummeted. Through August, sales of the Fiesta and Focus, which feature Ford’s climate-friendly EcoBoost engine, are down 17% for 2016, and Ford’s sales for that month were down 8% year over year. “The stock has been under really great pressure,” says Stover, who adds that “Ford has validated the fears” by downgrading its outlook.

The sales slowdown hasn’t stalled Ford’s plans on the autonomous--technology front, though. The company has targeted 2021 as the year it will release a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals, working with four startups to accomplish the feat. Morgan Stanley’s Jonas says that relatively speedy timetable is intended to give Ford an edge in the “fight for brains,” as it competes with Apple , Alphabet, other tech firms and the rest of Big Auto to attract software talent.

No discussion of New Age vehicles can leave out Tesla Motors TSLA 2.55% , since CEO Elon Musk’s pioneering firm already offers some—limited—autonomous technology in its cars through its autopilot feature. Tesla hasn’t been as vulnerable to economic cycles as other auto-makers, since its luxury-oriented customers can afford to pay $90,000 or more for a vehicle. Its Model 3 version, which will start at around $35,000, is scheduled for delivery in late 2017; that, oddly enough, could make the company more recession-sensitive, as average-income consumers become customers. But given its still hypothetical profits—and its growing cash-flow problem, which ¬Fortune has detailed—many investors are wary of Tesla’s stock at its current prices. The company’s impending acquisition of SolarCity also muddies the investing outlook. The fact that a future Tesla would sell not only vehicles and car batteries but also solar panels “dilutes the whole story,” says Bill Selesky of Argus Research.

The Tesla saga just underscores how hard it is to find autonomous-driving “pure plays” among publicly traded companies. Most makers of back-end autonomous sensors and software are fairly widely diversified. For example, Delphi Auto¬motive DLPH 0.43% , the big maker of electronic, engine, and safety systems, creates sensors for autonomous driving, including some used in a pilot project by the Singapore Land Transport Authority. But its autonomous efforts account for no more than 2% of its $15 billion in annual revenue right now. “We see them as well positioned” as the technology unfolds, says Jonas, but “not a safe haven” against traditional cycles in the auto market.

MobilEye may be the only pure autonomous play available. That company makes software and sensors that primarily work at what regulators call the tier-2 level of autonomy, where cars handle some functions on their own—the level you’re likely to see soonest on dealers’ lots. But as car companies build software internally, Mobileye’s market share could drop. Plus, the stock is not cheap.

The evolution of the auto industry over the next decade is going to be fascinating to watch. But it will be a long time before it creates any investing slam dunks.

Gearing up for a long drive

It’s likely to be a decade or more before self-driving technology makes a significant impact on the revenues of automakers and auto suppliers. But that isn’t stopping big companies in the field from souping themselves up for the race to come.

General Motors

Big Tech Plays: Spent just over $1 billion to buy self-driving tech startup Cruise Automation; invested $500 million in ride-sharing service Lyft.

Big Picture: North American sales jumped 11% in the first half of 2016, but the stock trades for barely four times earnings. GM plans $9 billion worth of stock buybacks to encourage shareholders to stick around.

Ford Motor

Big Tech Plays: Aims to release a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals by 2021.

Big Picture: Ford’s stock has tumbled by almost a third over the past 18 months, due in part to the oil crash—the company made a big commitment to smaller cars, whose popularity has declined as gas prices dropped. Of course, what goes down may come up again; in the meantime Ford pays a dividend of nearly 5%.

Tesla Motors

Big Tech Plays: Acquiring SolarCity in a move that, among other things, could make Tesla’s battery technology cheaper and more powerful.

Big Picture: The arrival of the mass-market-oriented Model 3 late next year could be the turning point that boosts the company to profitability. But some investors fret that the SolarCity deal could muck up the company’s finances.

Delphi Automotive

Big Tech Plays: Testing its sensors in self-driving cars in Singapore.

Big Picture: Self-driving tech accounts for no more than 2% of Delphi’s revenue, but its deep experience in automotive electronics and safety systems could give it an advantage in the long run. Morgan Stanley auto stock analyst Adam Jonas sees Delphi as “well positioned” for the technology’s evolution.

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