In the evolving race for self-driving vehicle supremacy, Ford and General Motors (GM) are leading the pack, at least according to a new Leaderboard Report by Navigant Research.
The company is not affiliated with any of the players, which allowed Navigant to conduct a bias-free study in which 18 automakers are assessed to determine the one “best equipped to be the leaders in developing complete automated driving stacks,” reads the report. Although technology is obviously a major component in getting autonomous vehicles to market, the study takes into account a manufacturer's ability to produce and sell vehicles, and make partnerships to overcome its weaknesses.
The scoring criteria used by Navigant was broken down into 10 components:
Vision Go-to-Market Strategy Partners Production Strategy Technology Sales, Marketing and Distribution Product Capability Product Quality and Reliability Product Portfolio Staying Power In a response to the study, Ford Chief Technology Officer Raj Nair credited the company’s history in manufacturing vehicles at scale and selling them across the country. “Take it from us,” said Nair, “we’ve been building vehicles for 113 years.”
Ford and GM have made several investments into the growing AV market. Ford recently bought Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup that specializes in machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles. Ford has also acquired Chariot, a San Francisco-based shuttle startup. Almost a year ago, GM bought Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based software company that has been working on autonomous vehicle technology. The automaker also recently announced a partnership with Lyft.
The study acknowledges that Waymo, which spun off of Google’s self-driving vehicle project, has the most advanced technology, however it is marked down due to its production strategy and sales. While Waymo plans on working with traditional automakers, the company still sits in the "contender" ring.
Tesla, which has been selling vehicles with the Autopilot function, an assisted driving feature, sits in the middle of the pack. While ranking high on vision and market strategy, the company has been apprehensive as far as outfitting vehicles with lidar sensors due to high costs.
While Uber garners significant headlines, it ranks toward the bottom of the pack due to its low grades on distribution, product portfolio and staying power. Although the company has one of the largest fleets in the world, that does not necessarily translate as an ability to convert those vehicles into AVs.
The report should not be taken as a concrete ranking going forward. Due to the amount of change in the market, the leaderboard could change drastically. “As the technology comes closer to series production in the coming years, the rankings in this group will likely continue to shift,” according to the report.