Google's self-driving car division valued higher than Ford, GM, Tesla

Google's self-driving car division valued higher than Ford, GM, Tesla
Posted at 9:46 AM, May 24, 2017

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Self-driving cars may be the wave of the future. But analysts at Morgan Stanley think one driverless car tech company may already be worth more than all of the US auto industry's established giants and newer competitors from Silicon Valley as well.

Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak and his team of Internet analysts said in a report earlier this week that Waymo, the autonomous car company that is owned by Google parent Alphabet, could have a value of $70 billion.

To put that in perspective, Alphabet's overall market value is about $665 billion. So Waymo would account for more than 10% of that.

What's more, $70 billion for Waymo is higher than Detroit's Big Three, electric car king Tesla and the most recent valuation for the world's biggest unicorn -- ridesharing giant Uber.

Fiat Chrysler -- $16 billion

Ford -- $43.5 billion

GM -- $50 billion

Tesla -- $51 billion

Uber -- $68 billion

The Morgan Stanley analysts said Waymo's recent partnership with Uber rival Lyft to develop self-driving cars -- or robo-taxis as some have dubbed them -- is a big plus for the company.

So there is clearly a lot of hype about autonomous cars. The hope is that fewer humans actually operating vehicles will lead to a drop in accidents due to distracted drivers.

But is a $70 billion value for Waymo realistic anytime soon?

For one, competition is going to be fierce -- especially with Uber. In fact, Waymo is currently suing Uber.

Waymo claims that former employee Anthony Levandowski stole proprietary technology. Levandowski left Waymo last year to start a self-driving truck company called Otto that was later bought by Uber.

The Morgan Stanley analysts conceded that Waymo is unlikely to post its first operating profit until 2022 and that operating margins will only be about 8% by 2030 -- on par with what rental car companies Hertz and Avis Budget Group generate now.

It's expected that Waymo would get a sizable percentage of its revenue from technology licensing deals it strikes with other car companies. So it's unlikely that you'll be going to a Google dealership to buy a Waymo-branded SUV anytime soon -- if ever.

Nonetheless, Morgan Stanley thinks Waymo is the most likely of Alphabet's so-called other bets -- units like Nest, fiber and healthcare division Verily that are not part of the core advertising business -- to one day be spun off as a separate company.

So a cynic might naturally wonder if Morgan Stanley is trying to plant a seed in the minds of Google/Alphabet executives.

Wall Street firms like Morgan Stanley make a big chunk of their revenue from investment banking fees, which includes advisory work on initial public offerings.

And there already is a notable Alphabet-Morgan Stanley connection. Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat was the CFO of Morgan Stanley before she left New York to head out to the West Coast.

Morgan Stanley did not respond to a request for comment about any possible investment banking business it was hoping to drum up from Alphabet or whether it had any advantage over its rivals due to Porat's former tenure at the firm.