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Car-makers well positioned in the automated driving race

Detroit 'Motor City' is home to the current leader in the AD race: Ford. (Photo: Fotolia)

Who is leading the much talked about race to automated driving? According to recent rankings by Navigant Research, Ford is out in front.

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Who is leading the much talked about race to automated driving? According to recent rankings by Navigant Research, Ford is out in front.

If there is one thing to be taken from Navigant Research’s Automated Driving Leaderboard Report, it’s this: don’t write off the old school. Of the four “leaders” the report identifies, four are traditional automakers: Ford (1st), GM (2nd), Renault-Nissan (3rd) and Daimler (4th).  That goes to say that as things stand, those are the companies best poised to bring autonomous cars to the market – so when the time comes to step into your autonomous car, it’s most likely to sport one of these famous badges.

The leading “contender” is VW who comes in at fifth. In fact, you have to scroll down to sixth place before you find anybody you might recognize from the “new-school”: Waymo take 6th place in a category that also includes Tesla (12th). Finally, Uber (16th), nuTonomy (17th) and Baidu (18th) bring up the rear and are considered mere “challengers”.

These standings have led many to frame this as a battle between Detroit – the former capital of American innovation – and Silicon Valley – it’s logical successor. And it’s a battle Detroit appears to be winning. Indeed, despite Waymo’s attack on the car industry, nuTonomy’s driverless taxis in Singapore, Baidu’s dedicated Autonomous Driving Unit and Uber’s ambitious visions that even go beyond driverless cars, it’s the Detroit-based auto giant with 113 years of dirt under its fingernails who comes out on top. But how?

The report scored 18 leading companies on 10 different criteria: vision; go-to market strategy; partners; production strategy; technology; sales, marketing, and distribution; product capability; product quality and reliability; product portfolio; and staying power. So as you can see, while this holistic measure certainly takes into account technology, it is just one part of a bigger picture – as one of the report’s authors, Sam Abuelsamid, told Wired:

“The technology is great, but unless you can build tens of thousands of cars and get people in those cars, it’s not really all that useful.”

So that may explain the somewhat surprising results: Ford, for example, scored relatively low on the technology front, but then it can boast a century of developing, testing, producing, marketing, distributing, and selling cars. Not to mention a recent move to bolster its “weakness” by pouring 1 billion U.S. dollars into AI.

All in all, the report suggests that the race winner is likely to be a master of all trades. It also serves to remind us: the auto giants are auto giants for a reason.

See the leaderboard here and read the full WIRED article here.

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