Ford Leads the Way In Self-Driving Cars, New Study Says

Ford and other established automakers are leading in autonomous car tech, according to Navigant Research, while Tesla, Waymo, and Uber lag behind.

Ford is accelerating testing of its Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle as the first automaker to test a fully autonomous vehicle at Mcity, the world’s first full-scale simulated urban environment at University of Michigan.
Ford is accelerating testing of its Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle as the first automaker to test a fully autonomous vehicle at Mcity, the world’s first full-scale simulated urban environment at University of Michigan.

Ford and other established automakers are leading upstart Tesla and tech companies Waymo and Uber in the race to build self-driving cars, according to a new study.

Judging from press coverage, you wouldn't be mistaken for thinking that the future of the automobile lies in Silicon Valley rather than Detroit. But Navigant Research, which released a self-driving car development "leaderboard" Monday, concluded that traditional automakers still have a greater ability to implement this new technology than many of their challengers.

Navigant ranked Ford as the current leader in autonomous car development, followed by General Motors and the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Waymo was ranked seventh, while Tesla and Uber didn't even crack the top 10. Tesla was ranked 12th and Uber 16th.

A similar study was conducted in 2015, but did not include tech companies. Ford placed outside the top five in that study, but advanced since then thanks to relevant partnerships with lidar manufacturer Velodyne and 3D mapmaker Civil Maps, as well as its acquisition of ride-sharing company Chariot. Ride-sharing is viewed by analysts as a perfect pairing with autonomous driving, because of the greater revenue to be gleaned from driverless cars that could stay on the road almost indefinitely.

Over the past couple of years, Ford has also expanded its fleet of autonomous test cars, and confirmed plans to put a self-driving car into production. That car will arrive in 2021 and will be used exclusively for ride-sharing. The Renault-Nissan Alliance has also promised to add self-driving capabilities to its production cars over the next few years.

Uber, meanwhile, was penalized in the Navigant study for not having a clear plan for applying its technology to production cars. The ride-sharing company is currently testing self-driving cars on public roads, but has no capability to build cars itself. Uber is also fighting a lawsuit from Waymo, alleging that it benefitted from stolen Waymo secrets.

Under its previous guise as the Google self-driving car project, Waymo struggled to find a way to commercialize its technology. The company is now partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) on a fleet of 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid autonomous minivans. However, FCA and Waymo have not discussed specific production plans.