Navigant Report Ranks GM as Leader of the Driverless Car Race, Tesla in Last Place

Author: Michael Cheng   

The autonomous driving industry is filled with emerging players and well-established companies. Navigant Research, a high-caliber consulting firm, closely tracks businesses in the driverless sector and publishes its findings in annual reports. The firm's latest study covers the pioneers and challengers of the self-driving space.

According to the report, GM and Waymo are currently leading the pack (in the aspects of developing autonomous platforms), while Tesla and Apple are lagging behind. Other strong and notable contenders include Daimler-Bosch, Ford, Waymo, Baidu-BAIC and Volkswagen Group.

GM's Path to Success

In the shift from pilot programs to deployment in live settings and large cities, GM has a very clear plan. Because of this, Navigant believes it is far ahead of its competitors. From a regulatory perspective, the automaker has been persistent in seeking approval from federal agencies, for new testing activities and the mass production of an SAE-L5 vehicle (no steering wheels or pedals).

In December, GM filed for a petition to the US Department of Transportation, requesting approval for the company's safety system used inside autonomous vehicles. The extra measure is needed, since new driverless prototypes lack components that double as safety features.

For instance, an airbag that is traditionally mounted inside a steering wheel will need an equivalent replacement that does not require the use of an external steering unit (since driverless cars don't have steering wheels).

"As 2017 was ending, Waymo still lacked a broader long-term manufacturing deal with an OEM to provide one or more vehicle platforms on an ongoing basis. This remains the single biggest weakness in Waymo's path to success," explained the study.

Tesla's Ranking

As mentioned earlier, Tesla ranked last in the automotive report. According to Navigant researchers, the EV company is currently having a difficult time developing driverless technology without Mobileye. The Israel-based startup, which was acquired by Intel last year, made significant contributions to the Autopilot platform (first generation).

However, Mobileye was not around for the development of Autopilot 2. As a result, the automaker worked arduously on the platform without a partner. An overhaul of the company's autonomous driving system is expected in the coming months.

"The Autopilot system on current products has stagnated and, in many respects, regressed since it was first launched in late 2015," cited Navigant. "More than one year after launching V2, Autopilot still lacks some of the functionality of the original, and there are many anecdotal reports from owners of unpredictable behavior."

Tesla's unfavorable ranking in the study should be taken lightly, as the self-driving sector is still at the nascent stages of growth. The business could close the gap by forging strategic partnerships with startups that specialize in autonomous systems, like the collaboration between GM and Cruise.

Interestingly, Uber and Honda ranked ahead of Tesla in the report. Last year, Navigant Research positioned Ford as the top developer of autonomous driving systems, due to its $1 billion investment in Argo AI. Though these days, the car manufacturer is struggling to stay relevant in the fast-moving industry. 

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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