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Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Venture capitalist Reilly Brennan believes that self-driving cars are coming faster than most people expect, but that the market doesn't have the best mix of startups yet.

Too much: Companies selling dongles for car data. "There are a hundred of those and there should probably be three," says Brennan, who last year co-founded transportation-focused Trucks Venture Capital. There are also too many "Uber for freight" companies, he adds.

Not enough: Startups working on decision-making systems. "There's around 24 of those companies; I would suggest there should be 125 to 200 of those companies."

Also, driver monitoring: "There's a lot of people focused on external sensors that are shooting laser beams out, and trying to make a map of what's outside the car, and I would suggest that there's a huge opportunity for taking that same type of thinking but doing it inside the cabin."

More Q&A with Brennan, who previously was executive director for Stanford's automotive research program:

What is the most likely exit for these companies? Are they all going to be $1 billion exits? IPOs?

Some of these technologies that are directly related to the supply chain are probably in line for acquisitions by other large supply chain companies like Tier 1 suppliers or manufacturers. I would suggest those exits are measured in the $50 million to $300 million range.

Those tech commodities, which are related to decision making, vehicle-to-vehicle kind of communications and things that are super important in keeping a fleet in high utilization — those are really valuable to a fleet owner which might be sort of a higher level of M&A or potentially a small IPO.

And then you have companies that are trying to build new categories of business in autonomy, for example [Trucks VC portfolio companies] Starsky or May Mobility, I think the idea for those companies is they would become public companies."

Does that affect how you invest?

For some companies that have the opportunity to be really category-defining, we are less price sensitive.

What will most impact the adoption of self-driving cars?

Policy is really important in this space and there's a lot of enthusiasm from lawmakers. There's probably not as much knowledge as there is enthusiasm so some of the lawmakers are actively engaging with startups. Sen. Thune being one, Jeff Brandeis in Florida who puts on his own autonomous vehicle conference.

A lot of the narrative has been "Silicon Valley is gonna win this one and Detroit just doesn't know what it's doing."

I think people underestimate and overestimate unfairly on both sides. If you actually want to deploy a self-driving vehicle, the vehicle piece of it is really important for a number of reasons: People want to feel safe. Also, in the world of automating vehicles, utilization is really important. Kind of like with a Formula 1 car, you don't wanna waste time in the pits, you always want to be out on the road earning money. So vehicles that can execute on a really high-duty cycle, that are always on the road, are super durable, are really for the passengers make the experience really safe — that's an incredibly valuable part of an autonomous vehicle system.

Go deeper

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

4 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.