Instead of fighting the hordes over Thanksgiving weekend – either online or at the mall – I found myself new car shopping.
While I figured my “ski mobile,” a 2005 Acura MDX SUV, could last another two years or so, there I was, steering into a dealership about half an hour from the Robinson household.
And there I saw a brand-new 2016 MDX on the showroom floor.
What can I say? It called to me.
But what does this have to do with tech investing – what I assume you’re here for?
As the salesman showed me such features as integrated Bluetooth, voice-activated navigation and touch-screen “infotainment,” I realized I was shopping for technology as much as I was shopping for a new car.
And after cruising around and checking out some of the Super Handling advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), I was hooked – and picked it up.
I’m far from alone. Millions of consumers cite advanced auto technologies as a key reason they’re buying or leasing now.
Today, I’m going to show you how to profit from this massive trend.
No, I’m not recommending Acura (or any other carmaker).
But I’ve found a small, little-known firm whose technology is already in 25 million vehicles on the road today.
And that number’s only going to soar as our cars and trucks advance further…
“Smartphone on Wheels”
I’ve been following the car industry for decades.
Before I found my way to Silicon Valley, I was a top auto analyst in Detroit in the early 1980s. As such, I traveled the world to talk with senior industry executives, car dealers, plant managers, union leaders and even everyday car buyers.
And I still follow the industry closely because cars are such a big driver of the global tech industry. That’s because they’re full of semiconductors, sensors and software.
In my more than 30 years of following the industry, as you might expect, the emphasis on tech features has only increased.
But here’s what you might not expect.
We’re in the middle of an auto sales boom that might end up the biggest in history.
November was the third consecutive month in which the domestic car industry had an annualized sales rate of 18 million cars – the highest such rate ever.
The industry analysts at TrueCar Inc. (Nasdaq: TRUE) and Edmunds.com Inc. say it would take a very weak December for the industry not to beat the record it set back in 2000, when U.S. auto dealers sold 17.4 million cars and trucks.
Not only that, but here’s what I think.
Even if the U.S. Federal Reserve raises rates this month, as many expect it do, car sales will increase even further next year.
I’m not alone in this prognostication.
LMC Automotive just raised its 2015 forecast by 200,000 units, to 17.5 million. LMC says that 2016 sales could rise even another 300,000 units, to 17.8 million cars and trucks.
Technology is playing a major role in this boom in auto sales.
Earlier this year, The New York Times analyzed the new-car boom and said high tech has become an irresistible lure.
According to the Times, consumers are now leasing in record numbers so they can keep pace with the technology. Leasing now accounts for 27% of auto “sales,” up 18% from just two years ago.
“The automobile is evolving from just a machine to take people where they need to go,” the Times reporter wrote, “to a ‘smartphone on wheels’ that is as much about the tech experience as the driving itself.”
The Latest Unstoppable Trend
When I went to pick up the MDX on Tuesday, I spent two hours with a technician going over the suite of features included in the Advance package.
If I hadn’t been entirely convinced before, I was now.
Besides the Bluetooth, voice navigation and touch-screen controls, there was a backup camera display and parking sensor warnings packed into the in-dash infotainment system. And that’s just the short list of technologies packed into my new Acura.
If you haven’t seen one of these “connected cars” yet, I encourage you to check one out at your local dealership – even if you’re not in the market for a new car. It will make you more confident in any auto technology-related investments you’re making.
Suddenly, your old car, even you’ve got a luxury nameplate, will seem like a throwback to the Flintstones.
Even my wife’s 2010 Infiniti FX 35 – which you know is packed with tech features of that time – is starting to feel dated. (And I think that explains why I saw her going through Infiniti’s website on her iPad after I brought home the new MDX.)
In other words, the connected car meets the mandates of Rule No. 3 of my five-part system for building wealth through tech investing. That rule says to “Ride the unstoppable trends.”
And for your connected car “ride,” I think you should take a look at Harman International Industries Inc. (NYSE: HAR), a pioneering leader in connected-car technology.
Back in 1997, the firm introduced turn-by-turn navigation. And the Stamford, Conn., company has pumped out a steady stream of auto-tech advances ever since: 3D navigation, multimedia systems, Bluetooth integration, smart apps for mobile users… even cloud-computing services for the car.
More recently, Harman introduced “augmented navigation.” This platform blends live-motion video with graphics to provide drivers with a clearer understanding of the road ahead and visual cues for complex intersections.
More than 25 million vehicles on the road today feature Harman’s auto tech. That impressive milestone is backed up by a strong portfolio of intellectual property – the company boasts some 2,000 patents.
The company also is making our cars more like smartphones than ever before by making CarPlay and Android Auto possible.
With CarPlay, drivers can take their iPhone, plug it in… and then find their smartphone’s interface on their dashboard. Android Auto does the same for smartphones powered by that operating system. In in an instant, all your favorite apps (Spotify, iMessage, etc.) are on your dashboard.
Much of the tech in my new Acura depends on Harman technology.
And beyond that, the company can count Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), BMW AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE: FCAU), Volvo AB (OTC ADR: VOLVY), Daimler AG (OTC: DDAIF) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) as clients.
Driving to a Double
In the 2016 first fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30, Harman’s sales came in at $1.6 billion, up 23% in constant dollar terms and a 14% increase after factoring in the cost of currency-exchange rates.
Connected-car systems dominate sales. They accounted for $755 million in revenue, or about 45% of the total.
Next in line is home stereo technology, including audio-video receivers and Bluetooth speakers, which makes up roughly 28% of sales.
Over the past three years, Harman has grown earnings per share by an average 33%. For my projection, I’m going to be conservative and cut that back to 15%.
If Harman keeps on that track, earnings – and its share price – should double in less than five years.
During the past five years, the stock has done incredibly well, rising 136%. That means it beat the S&P 500 Index by 79%.
And that doesn’t count Harman’s 1.4% dividend.
I can expect my new Acura to last about 11 years – or however long it takes me to reach 200,000 miles. But that inner “gadget geek” I mentioned earlier will probably get me to the dealership a lot sooner than that.
After all, we can expect affordable self-driving car functions to start showing up within the next five years or so.
And with what I’m forecasting for this stock, I think you’ll be able to hold onto it for at least that long.
As you hold onto it, you’ll watch your portfolio grow as high tech continues pushing auto sales into the next decade and beyond.
Harman will be there to capitalize on that unstoppable trend.