NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The idea of Google (GOOG) acquiring Tesla Motors (TSLA) isn't a far cry, nor is it a gimmick by me to drive traffic. The rationale behind the takeover actually makes a lot of sense when delved into.
Last week I wrote Autonomous Cars Driving the Future, which highlighted the incredible advances in what was once considered a fantasy. It also touched on how consumer sentiment -- which admittedly has come a long way -- is the main barrier holding it back, not technology.
I won't beat around the bush: Google should buy Tesla for its wealthy, early adopter customer base and premium automobile manufacturing.
No other company has made more noise this year than Tesla and perhaps no other person more than its CEO Elon Musk. While usually taunting bears and toting his company, the dynamic innovator, who I've called one of the most brilliant of our time, recently questioned the stock's valuation.
Bulls must be confounded as to why he would do such a thing. Maybe Musk was able to see into the future, like he does with so many other things, and realize that a "bubble" might be forming in his stock.
But who really knows why he did it. Maybe the stock will finally end its parabolic move higher and come down to what we call Earth. What could be better for a potential buyer, like Google?
Every automaker in the self-driving car industry is likely to develop its own software, and many are in the process as we speak. General Motors (GM), Mercedes Benz, Audi, Nissan -- the list goes on and on. Once self-driving cars hit the market, it won't be a decade, tops, before they can all do it themselves, without the help of a Google. So why not beat them all to the punch? Get ahead of the curve. By acquiring Tesla, the tech giant will have several advantages. For starters, it will have a company that has a strong luxury appeal in the United States, which is expanding to Europe as well. The Model S has the highest rating ever from Consumer Reports, as well as being rated the safest car ever by the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Aside from expanding markets and top-of-the-line vehicles, Google gets one more very important thing: The early adopting, wealthy customer. Self-driving cars probably won't start at $19,999. They'll be pricey, which is expected. For that you'll need consumers who will drop the kind of money that's necessary without thinking twice. We're not looking for the guy combing the used car lot, but someone who says, Yeah, self-driving car...$80,000? Sure! Perhaps more important than the wealth factor is the early adoption mindset. People who buy and love Tesla now are not your standard car buyer. The ones who have one, wanted a top model whip that is now at the forefront of electric vehicles. Evidently, convincing the public that self-driving cars are both safer and more efficient, is harder than actually making them. That's pretty incredible. In my previous article, I wrote: But why is the public so hesitant to this change? I think Jayne O'Donnell summed it perfectly when she wrote, "No one would question a cure for cancer that could eliminate as many as 80% of the deaths, [Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International] says, and that's what he believes eliminating the driver could accomplish." Even if a regular automaker's customer had the same desire to buy a self-driving car as Tesla's customers, Google would still get a premium automaker and a wealthy customer base in the takeover. Ultimately, the price tag would be the question. As of Google's latest earnings report, it had $56.5 billion in cash and short-term investments. As of Friday's close, Tesla had a market cap of nearly $20 billion, making a cash deal for the company within reason. Google has proved it's willing to spend handsomely in takeovers and while the price tag is technically affordable, Tesla's valuation is certainly questionable. Counting on analysts to know fair value is essentially like rolling the dice and it's hard to tell when the stock will eventually come back down. Personally, I like the company and love Musk. I'm even keen to say I think the company has a very bright future and a ton of potential. But right now, the stock is ahead of itself. I would think that if it fell below $100, Google should step in. A deal at $125 per share, or $15 billion, seems sort of like a steal. It could offer $24 billion or $175 per share, or perhaps just north of $30 billion, or $250 per share. These are just some round number figures to put it in perspective. I don't know that a sub-$100 price will be seen anytime soon, but below that mark, some of these price tags start to make you go Hmm... While Google could completely overpay for Tesla and perhaps run into legal issues and complications down the road with autonomous driving, the rewards vastly outweigh the risks. Personally, I think Google could become more than anyone ever thought possible if it started rolling out self-driving vehicles (a fantasy in itself), in a ride as nice as Tesla. There's huge opportunity in autonomous driving, which could be here in as soon as ten years. DISCLOSURE: The author had no position in any stock mentioned. -- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich. Follow @BretKenwell
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