As the battle heats up between the world's two largest economies, the U.S. is at risk of losing its leadership position to China in developing commercially viable robocars, also known as self-driving vehicles. China is moving to rapidly expand the use of super-fast 5G technology that allows self-driving vehicles to communicate with one another, positioning it to leap ahead of rivals.

China will be "saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives much sooner than we will as we fumble to determine which is the standard that is best for the long-term road map in the Western world," says Patrick Little, a Qualcomm senior vice president, explained in a detailed story in Bloomberg.

What It Means For Investors

Which nation wins the robocar race is likely to determine which public companies - and stocks - thrive longterm and which ones get left behind. On one side are Qualcomm and a coalition of more than 100 other companies that are hoping to convince regulators globally to approve a common 5G standard known as C-V2X, for "cellular vehicle-to-everything." This technology would connect vehicles with infrastructure in real-time, helping to communicate traffic data and, in turn, lower the number of potential accidents, per Bloomberg. Qualcomm's Little says of C-V2X, "If we can get around a common standard, we can deploy it more quickly, save a lot of money and save a lot of time."

A group with a competing technology includes automotive chip manufacturer NXP Semiconductors NV (NXPI), General Motors Co. (GM) and others, who argue that an existing Wi-Fi-based technology - called DSRC - is sufficient. The debate has spread internationally as well. Japan has committed to focusing on DSRC. But European member states rejected DSRC this year as the European Commission was about to approve it. The Trump administration has made no decision.

What's Next

While the U.S. debates the best way to proceed, China clearly has already embraced the C-V2X system. This means China is poised to be the first nation to successfully get C-V2X vehicles on the road, according to the 5G Automotive Association.