Why Google May Buy Ford Someday

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Sometimes I engage in a silly exercise of who might buy whom based strictly on market cap.

In playing the game early this week I noticed Google ( GOOG) is now worth about $240 billion, and Ford Motor ( F) is worth just under $52 billion. Google could buy Ford more than four times over.

The idea sounds ridiculous until you realize how much work Google has been doing on self-driving cars the last few years. Then it just gets far-fetched.

The fact is car companies and tech companies are growing closer. Google now has a deal with Hyundai to put its Google Maps into select vehicles, TalkingPointsMemo reports, starting this year. All car companies have been increasing the amount of electronics in their cars. It's a relatively cheap upgrade that can add significantly to the price and perceived value.

Car companies are also getting more serious about autonomy, which is what they call the way-stations on the way to self-driving cars. At the Consumer Electronics Show this week Toyota's ( TM) Lexus division announced an "active safety" concept car, equipped with lasers, cameras and radar that make a driver more like an airline pilot, reports Automobilemag. Drivers are technically in charge but more and more of the work is being done by the computer.

KPMG has a white paper out on driverless cars. It sees regulatory, design and market changes bringing self-driving cars to the market by 2025.

The KPMG paper is filled with pictures of happy young executives in back seats smiling over iPads, but I think the market reality is different. Once these vehicles become available, I can easily see drunk drivers sentenced to using them, and older drivers being pushed into them by their worried offspring. Even semi-autonomous cars -- like those Toyota is working on now -- might, once they come down in price, be scooped up by driving schools. Those deals might push new drivers toward them.

Avis' ( CAR) recently announced purchase of Zipcar ( ZIP) is another marker on this road. Why should a Zipcar sit at a train station waiting for its driver? Why couldn't it come to you? If it's already coming to you, why couldn't you plug in your destination and just act as a back-up on the way there?

Self-driving cars could be a revolution for our cities. It's easy to see the market model moving from purchase to short-term rental, and to see most cars spending their days on the road, not stuck in parking lots. Right now parking represents one-third of the physical space in many of our cities.

Self-driving cars could also, in theory, take up less space on roads. No more of that confusion you always face at exits, with drivers darting across multiple lanes after suddenly realizing they did indeed want to get off here.

No more speed demons darting in and out, and fewer slowpokes making the speed demons even more dangerous -- it's relative speeds that create the most danger on our roads. That, and drivers impaired by age, drink, drugs, cell phones, hamburgers, hot coffee, ADD (squirrel!) and kids fighting in the back seat.

But here's another market reality. I don't expect car companies like Toyota or Ford to simply give over control of their cars to some tech outfit. They will want to create their own technology, never mind the cost, and their influence on regulators could easily be used to keep tech-heavy rivals out of the market.

If the tech companies want in, they may have to buy their way in.

Now consider this: Ford had revenue of $136 billion last year. Google had revenue of $38 billion. When Google decided it needed to get into phone hardware to make headway in that market, it did not hesitate to buy Motorola Mobility, never mind the margin hit.

A combined "Foogle" would have had earnings of $4 billion on revenue of $46 billion last quarter, by my calculation.

So call me crazy. But just watch the technology evolve over the next few years. By this time in 2018 I may not sound so crazy.

At the time of publication the author had positions in GOOG and F.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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