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These Transportation Startups are Driving the Auto Revolution

While the capital-intensive auto industry landscape tends to be dominated by the big players, these start-ups are challenging the orthodoxy with a bold new vision for the car.

The future of the automobile is currently in flux in a way it hasn’t been since, well, since the Model T. This, after nearly a century of offering a steady evolution of essentially the same product, a self-driven vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Today? We stand on the verge of positively explosive change with regards to almost every aspect of the process. From self-driving vehicles to electric engines, every aspect of the car is currently getting a new approach.

Of course, if you’re an emerging growth investor, getting a piece of the action doesn’t appear to be all that easy. A lot of the names that are currently driving these changes are very large, well-established public companies that lack the sort of massive upside for investors that a startup or small cap would.

You would have to be WILDLY optimistic about the growth prospects for a company like Tesla (TSLA) to be ready to buy in at its current price. General Motors (GM) is doing some exciting things under the leadership of Mary Barra, including a moderately-priced electric car in the Chevy Bolt that appears to be poised to beat the Tesla Model 3 to market, but GM’s a large-cap stock with a long history. And you would be investing in the future of ride-sharing and driverless cars if you could buy a slice of Uber, but it’s hard to keep calling the company a “startup” with a valuation currently estimated to be north of $50 billion.

However, if you think there’s no striving, hungry young companies with a lot to prove that are ready to revolutionize the auto industry, turns out you’d be wrong. There are plenty of startups fighting to get a piece of the new auto industry that’s just beginning to bud, and they’re powering a wave of innovation that stands to take the car in new directions that resemble nothing in living memory. And here’s just a few…

Elio Motors – Elio Motors is a car with three wheels. Oh, that and it gets 84 mpg and will be available at a base price of $7,400. The company also made waves by becoming the first company to close a successful Reg A+ capital raise after it raised $17 million from 6,000 investors. Elio is making the vehicles in America and already has nearly 60,000 reservations for when it launches in mid-2016.

Driversiti – Driversiti is also changing driving without directly addressing the car. Leveraging the ubiquity of smartphones and the continued improvement of sensors they include, Driversiti records driver behavior to help improve safety. It notifies drivers in the event of a deviation from normal behavior, and it can be employed by driving fleets to track drivers over a number of different variables.

Savari – Vehicle connectivity is going to be a big part of the future of cars. Between the rise of the internet of things and smart cities, cars that communicate with their surroundings are going to open up a range of options for consumers. That’s where Savari, a leader in V2X, vehicle to everything, enters the equation, developing systems that allow cars to integrate seamlessly into the rest of its owner’s life.

Getaround – If you own a car, there’s a lot of the day when it’s not in use. Renting it out could be an additional income stream if only you could organize that and screen people so your car doesn’t wind up in a wreck. Enter Getaround, a peer-to-peer carsharing service that allows you to rent and unlock a car using only your smartphone. You can get $500 guaranteed for listing your car, and rentals start as low as $5 an hour.

Sober Steering – Sober Steering installs a sensor in the steering wheel of a car that detects gases coming from your palm and shuts down the vehicle if the driver is intoxicated. A valuable tool against drunk driving, the app can be used by fleet managers to ensure safety from its drivers.

Atieva – The perception may be that the name Tesla is the only name that matters when it comes to dedicated electric car companies, but there’s some up-and-coming companies that stand to give Elon Musk a real run for his money sooner rather than later. Atieva is one such company, designing high-end, all-electric vehicles. It made something of a splash a couple months ago when it unveiled the Edna, an all-electric vehicle that goes 0-60 in 3.08 seconds and is seen here beating a Ferrari and Tesla Model S in a drag race. And, did I mention it’s a van?

Faraday Future – Another player in the electric vehicle market would be Faraday Future, a secretive company that’s stayed largely mum on the specifics of its ultimate consumer-facing product. The company does appear committed to leverage a new generation of technology to attempt to really change the very nature of the car as a product.

Photo by Maurizio Pesce.

HopSkipDrive – Modifying the car is only one part of the coming transportation revolution, the other is the changing nature of who’s doing the driving. Among the more innovative ridesharing apps is HopSkipDrive. Created by three mothers, it’s focused on busy families that need help shuttling kids between after-school activities. With a heavy focus on safety, the company screens its drivers vigorously to ensure they have a complete background check and childcare experience.

Veniam – Speaking of smart cities, start-up Veniam is helping cities leverage their vehicle fleet to build a mobile wireless network with city-wide coverage all while collecting data to help improve city services in the process. With a variety of applications, turning vehicle fleets into mobile wireless hotspots can help cities learn from themselves even while offering a wide-scale public utility.

nuTonomy – There’s plenty of companies developing technologies for self-driving applications, but there’s only one that was spun off of MIT, and that’s nuTonomy. Boasting experts in robotics, the company is working to tackle the biggest challenge facing self-driving cars: navigating the chaotic urban environment with its spectrum of vehicles, pedestrians, and animals interacting with cars. The company launched a pilot autonomous taxi service in Singapore this August, and is also developing a number of other autonomous robotics applications.

Quanergy Systems – Quanergy Systems is developing and deploying high-tech 3D LiDAR systems for 3D mapping. Its object detection, identification, and tracking greatly improves the safety and accuracy of on-board driver safety systems and should ultimately play an important role in the future of the autonomous vehicles.

Comma – Comma is a company founded by former hacker George Hotz, alias geohot, that’s taking a different approach to bringing the self-driving car to the masses. Instead of building the self-driving car from the ground up like most companies are trying to do, Comma is attempting to build an easy-to-use, inexpensive kit to convert any car to a driverless car using entirely off-the-shelf components.

As we say goodbye to 2023, there's a compelling argument to keep your portfolio anchored in growth stocks next year.