An old axiom in motorsports goes: “to finish first, first you must finish.” This means you can have the fastest car on the track and qualify on the pole position, but if you don’t have the preparation or team to back you up, the quality of the car is meaningless. In the race to make automated driving a successful commercial reality, hype may get companies all the media attention, but a fully realized strategy combined with the ability to execute are the keys to success. This is why Ford, General Motors (GM), the Renault-Nissan Alliance, and Daimler are the leaders in the latest Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Automated Driving Systems.
Outside observers would not be faulted for believing that companies in Silicon Valley were about to roll over the entire automotive industry and take over personal mobility in the coming months based on news coverage. However, as many veterans of the technology industry have become painfully aware of, the reality is that building vehicles to safely transport the world’s population is far more difficult than just writing an app and publishing it to an online store.
Horse Before the Cart
Assembling a suite of sensors and writing the basic software to control a vehicle are actually the easy parts. Before that package can become a real product, you need a vehicle. Google developed its automated driving system in 2009 by hiring many of the top brains from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and several automakers that had previously created winning vehicles in the DARPA Grand Challenge program between 2004 and 2007. Then Google went to local Toyota and Lexus dealers and bought vehicles one or two at a time. Companies like Cruise Automation and Uber followed similar paths. In order to commercialize a system, they will need to invest billions more to develop and manufacture vehicles or find an automaker partner willing to supply cars.
Uber is reported to have lost more than $3 billion in 2016 without capital investment in vehicles or manufacturing. The world’s major automakers already have the engineering and manufacturing infrastructure in place, and many of them have been working on autonomous technology for far longer than Silicon Valley. Major automakers understand the intricacies of developing, validating, and certifying vehicles for profitable production.
At Navigant Research, we believe the leading automakers are learning what it takes to develop automated vehicles faster than new entrants can learn how to build cars. Companies like Ford, GM, Nissan, and Daimler also understand the regulatory and product liability hurdles faced by bringing automation to the world’s roads. These companies have heavily invested in controlling and understanding the key technologies required to make vehicles and automated driving system work seamlessly.
Just Around the Corner
The leading companies in this field are also rapidly developing their own in-house mobility services so that they can provide consumer access to automated driving systems while retaining control of vehicle manufacturing. This will help to ensure that the vehicles are properly maintained and updated—something that is key to safe and proper use within the early years of deployment.
Technology companies like Waymo and nuTonomy, as well as suppliers like Delphi and ZF, will have an important role to play in the new mobility ecosystem. But for now, automakers lead in the automated driving system race.