Ford, GM and Nissan leading self-driving research, study says

But a big group of competitors isn't that far behind.

Every day, it seems like there's some news about some company doing something in the field of autonomous vehicles. A new study makes some sense of all this by actually attempting to figure out who's leading the pack.

General Motors, Ford, Renault-Nissan and Daimler are all categorized as "Leaders" on Navigant Research's leaderboard grid. GM ranks higher in execution, but Ford is ahead in strategy, according to the study, which takes into account criteria such as vision, partners, production strategy, staying power and product capability.

That isn't to say these three companies are walking away from the rest of the field. A number of automakers and suppliers are close behind in the "Contenders" category, including BMW, Waymo, Volkswagen Group and Delphi.

Ford has been slapping autonomous tech onto its Fusion since mid-2013.

Ford

Navigant also lumped competitors together based on their perceived ability to bring Level 4 automation to production cars the fastest. The research firm believes the Leaders will be battling with VW, BMW, Waymo and Volvo/Autoliv to deliver a Level 4-capable car to the masses. Level 4 automation means that computers take care of controlling the vehicle and monitoring the environment, with manual driving available in certain modes.

Of course, some companies have room for improvement. Navigant believes Delphi, Hyundai, Tesla, Toyota, ZF and Peugeot have the basic infrastructure and capability, there are some issues with strategy and execution still. Navigant specifically mentions Tesla's "unrelated" business issues, including distribution and profitability concerns, as potential roadblocks.

At the bottom of the rankings are the "Challengers." Honda holds a low ranking due to a more conservative approach, with limited focus on pure automation beyond concept cars, choosing instead to focus on deploying more driver-assistance systems to its mass market cars. Uber is an outlier, as well, thanks to low scores in sales and marketing, staying power and product capability, despite high scores in go-to-market strategy and partnerships.

While this might sound like sage advice for a trader looking to make some coin on the Next Big Thing, I wouldn't go hitching my horses to any one post just yet. We're still years away from deployment of Level 4 vehicles, and plenty of things are bound to change in that time.

Even Navigant knows these rankings won't stay the same year after year. "As the number of participants actively involved in development of advanced automated driving has grown, it has become increasingly challenging to distinguish where they stand relative to each other," Navigant admits in the study. "[A]s the technology comes to closer to series production in the coming years, the rankings in this group will likely continue to shift."

With Michigan opening up its public roads to autonomous development, expect Detroit's hometown heroes to step up their efforts.

General Motors
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