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GM shares upgraded because of automaker's 'advanced' autonomous technology

Key Points
  • Guggenheim upgrades shares of General Motors to buy from neutral and bumps its price target to $52.
  • General Motors hosts a highly anticipated event next week, where it is expected to update investors on the status of its autonomous technology.
  • Shares of GM closed 2.3 percent higher on Monday, adding to its 26 percent gain this year.
General Motors vehicles go through assembly after GM celebrated the official launch of the Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric vehicle at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly November 30, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.
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General Motors will surprise Wall Street with its "advanced" autonomous technology announcement later this month and affirm its goal to be a key competitor in ride-sharing, according to one Wall Street firm Monday.

Guggenheim upgraded shares of General Motors to buy from neutral on Monday, citing the company's "vision for an autonomous future" as well as a "comfortable" 2018 outlook.

"GM has expressed notable optimism about the status of its AVs, and seems confident it can launch a ride-hailing fleet of robo-taxis well before 2020 for geo-fenced urban areas," wrote analyst Emmanuel Rosner in a note to clients. "CEO Mary Barra has famously said and repeated that GM's AVs are quarters away, not years."

Investors will be able to see for themselves just how close the carmaker is to putting fully autonomous cars on the road during its hotly anticipated Nov. 30 event. Shares of GM closed 2.3 percent higher, adding to their 26 percent gain this year.

The company's autonomous Bolt is being built on a dedicated platform which can scale production upward of 100,000 units, according to Rosner, which could give it a significant cost advantage over competitors.

This leadership in autonomous technology could mean a "sizable" earnings opportunity in the years ahead, especially in the budding U.S. ride-sharing and -hailing industries. Guggenheim analysis shows that current ride-sharing is costing Uber and Lyft $2.75 per mile, while driverless solutions could bring that number down to $1.50 per mile by 2020, a big upside opportunity for the carmaker. Further, the analyst expects 10 percent of all urban/suburban vehicle miles will be some form of autonomous by 2025.

While these goals may be a few years away, Rosner also sees meaningful earnings potential in 2018. Barra relieved many investors last week at an investor conference in assuring the audience that full-sized truck production would only fall 70,000 units in 2018 versus estimates of 110,000. The analyst continues to see 2018 earnings per share of $6.05, well ahead of consensus of $5.80.

"We believe the market is only pricing in a relatively conservative view of the value of GM's Mobility business, especially after the recent pull-back in the stock," added Rosner. "Looking simply at the market cap gains, GM stock is up 23 percent over the past 3 months or roughly $10 billion. If we attribute half of this gain to an overall re-rating for U.S. auto stocks, this leaves just a $5 billion boost attributable to growing investor optimism."

Rosner increased his price target to $52 from $48, representing 19 percent upside from Friday's close.