When it comes to autonomous vehicle development, the names you see in the news or on social media might not be the ones actually leading the charge, according to a new study.
Navigant Research on Monday published its annual leaderboard for the development of automated driving technology. The group ranks nearly two dozen companies developing AV hardware and software based on a variety of factors, including production strategy, marketing, capability, staying power and reliability. The groups are then ranked on a map with axes for strategy and execution.
The results might surprise some folks. Waymo ranks highest in both strategy and execution, placing it into Navigant's "Leaders" section on its map. The Google spinoff is just ahead of Ford's AV efforts, and those two are themselves just ahead of GM's Cruise, China's Baidu and Intel-Mobileye.
The next category, "Contenders," is where you'll see many more familiar faces. Traditional automakers like Daimler (with partner Bosch), Hyundai (with partner Aptiv), Toyota and Volkswagen make an appearance here, in addition to other startups like Zoox, May Mobility and Russia's Yandex, which marks its first appearance within Navigant's rankings.
The penultimate "Challengers" bucket represents companies that trail behind everyone mentioned up to this point. There are some familiar faces here, too, like Volvo and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. This is also where Tesla lies.
Tesla fans will likely find a point of consternation with the automaker's dead-last placement on this list. Navigant has answers, though: "Tesla continues to make high-profile promises, including having one million robotaxi-capable vehicles on the road by the end of 2020," Navigant's report reads. "However, the performance of its systems remains inconsistent and its products do not match its proposed mobility business model."
Some high-profile names didn't even make it onto Navigant's leaderboard this year. Apple fell off because Navigant claims the company has not offered a "clear view of any commercialization plans." Uber is still working on getting its AV efforts back up to speed after one of its vehicles was involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian. Lyft hasn't made much ground in recent months, and Navigant has concerns about whether or not AVs will actually produce profits for ride-hailing firms.
Of course, it's worth mentioning that this study is looking at in-progress tech development. Being higher up on the leaderboard does not necessarily guarantee that these companies will create viable automated vehicles in any specific time frame, although there are hints of promise coming from limited-scope trial programs such as Waymo One. Nevertheless, this is a good marker that should give the public a better idea of who's actually making things happen behind the usual spate of headlines.
First published March 16.