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GM is leading the self-driving car race while Tesla lags far behind, report says

GM is leading the self-driving car race while Tesla lags far behind, report says
The Cruise AV is designed to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls when it goes on the road in 2019. [Photo: courtesy of GM]

General Motors is leading the pack in terms of self-driving technology and a go-to-market strategy, according to the latest Leaderboard report from Navigant Research. Meanwhile, Waymo is nipping at its heels. The report notes that while the two companies are tied for actual self-driving technology, GM’s manufacturing capabilities and its business strategy put its ahead.

The Leaderboard report was last updated in August of last year. At that time, it claimed Ford was in first place, with GM cruising along in second. “Ford’s move from 1st to 4th is more a reflection of the progress made by GM, Waymo, and Daimler than anything Ford has done wrong,” the report notes.

General Motors has taken major steps toward deploying electric autonomous vehicles. In a blog post, the CEO of GM subsidiary Cruise Automation, Kyle Vogt, said that he and his team had developed the first autonomous car ready for mass production. GM has plans to seed these cars into its Maven car rental program and Lyft’s ride-hailing network. The company has promised to launch autonomous ride-sharing by 2019.

So what about Waymo? The company previewed its self-driving cars in November and has also started testing its autonomous vehicles sans safety driver in Arizona. It’s also signed deals with Lyft, Avis, and Autonation in preparation for eventual deployment. But Navigant says the company is missing a crucial component in its plan: “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.”

The last company worth pulling out of the report is Tesla, which seems to have made its way to the bottom of the stack despite its evolving Autopilot feature. Tesla has been promoting Autopilot–a sort of pre-autonomous technology–since 2015. But Navigant says that the company’s break with car safety innovator Mobileye may have set back its self-driving efforts. Not only that, but Tesla’s regular vehicle production has hit some road bumps in the last year. “Tesla is the outlier,” the report notes, “with big plans and lots of public announcements, but technology that is at best dubious and some serious financial and manufacturing quality issues to mitigate.” Yikes.

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