A Sleeper Tesla Play? NVIDIA Already Benefitting From Peculiar Contract

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NVIDIA shares are on the rise after analysts began to weigh the implications of Tesla’s big reveal last night on the chip maker’s future. The automaker said that going forward, all of its vehicles will be fitted out with all of the hardware needed to be fully autonomous. However, the catch is that the hardware won’t be active when the vehicles are shipped out and probably won’t work for quite some time—at least until regulations catch up with technology.

Analysts are going through what Tesla’s announcement means for NVIDIA and the “peculiarities” that are in the new hardware package, such as the use of a gaming chip rather than a chip designed for autonomous driving.

Skepticism about Tesla’s ability to deliver

UBS analyst Colin Langan isn’t convinced that Tesla will be able to deliver on its promises of Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles. The automaker said that at first, the vehicles that have all the new hardware won’t even have as many self-driving features as its Autopilot system has. This is probably a good thing though because Tesla continues to catch flak for the system, with the latest criticisms coming from regulators in Europe who are complaining about the “Autopilot” name.

On top of what Tesla is already installing on its cars in terms of the new autonomous driving technology, the company plans to push out even more improvements every two to three months. By next year, the automaker expects the vehicles that have the new hardware to have better autonomous capabilities than those with the Autopilot system. In fact, Tesla expects it to be twice as safe as cars operated by human drivers.

Too early for level 5 autonomous driving?

Further, the company is planning a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. Langan called this announcement “surprising” because of the greater scrutiny surrounding Autopilot. He warns that pushing this technology too early and without performing enough tests could have some serious consequences on adoption over the long term due to headline risks associated with crashes involving the autonomous driving system. We’ve already seen how serious these headline risks are because they’ve been plaguing the EV maker for months since the deadly crash involving Autopilot.

The analyst spoke with experts about autonomous driving technology who believe level 5 autonomy is still decades away from being ready for adoption by the mass market.

Tesla will use NVIDIA’s Titan gaming chip

Part of the fallout from the Auto-pilot related crash was the termination of Mobileye’s supplier relationship with Tesla, which has now switched to NVIDIA. Morgan Stanley analyst Joseph Moore said in a report dated Oct. 20 that he hadn’t been expecting any immediate production wins for the chip maker, but that is exactly what it has secured, based on what Tesla revealed. He termed the announcement “a significant positive for NVIDIA,” although he admitted that they are still analyzing the details.

He added that the relationship between the automaker and chip maker seems to have “some peculiarities,” such as Tesla’s use of the Titan chip, which consumes a great deal of power and is designed for extreme gaming rather than autonomous driving. Also Tesla described its new autonomous technology as being “somewhat hardware independent,” which is very strange, especially because of all the new hardware that’s being added to its vehicles for the purpose of autonomous driving. Additionally, Tesla has apparently hired some chip designers of its own. Of course NVIDIA is in its quiet period around earnings and thus can’t comment on anything currently.

Mizuho Securities analyst Vijay Rakesh said in a report today that investors who believe in Tesla’s autonomous driving tech should buy NVIDIA stock because of the supplier relationship with the automaker. He noted that this is a big positive for the chip maker because it diversifies the implementation of its Titan chip.

NVIDIA shares rose by as much as 1.59% to $67.53 during regular trading hours, while Tesla stock fell by as much as 1.41% to $200.68

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