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Ford leads autonomous vehicle race: study

Driven: Ford’s early in-house development and recent advancements in autonomous vehicle technologies have placed the Blue Oval as the frontrunner for widespread self-driving adoption.

Self-driving vehicle development led by Ford according to Navigant Research study

6 Apr 2017

FORD has been named the leader in autonomous vehicle development ahead of General Motors (GM), Daimler and Tesla in a recent study conducted by Navigant Research into the progress of self-driving technologies.

According to the report, titled Navigant Research and the Leadership Report: Automated Driving, Ford topped the tables with an overall score of 85, placing it ahead of GM (84.8), Renault-Nissan alliance (82.0) and Daimler (77.7) in the ‘leaders’ category.

“Scoring is based on an assessment of each company in terms of how established and comprehensive its current deployment of advanced driver assistance systems is what public announcements it has made regarding the next generation of self-driving features and how committed it is to the longer-term goals of automated vehicles,” the report said.

Navigant cited Ford as one of the first manufacturers to develop an in-house self-driving prototype with its F-250 pick-up truck back in 2005, which morphed in mid-2013 to a test fleet of autonomous Fusion sedans that entered into its second generation in December.

Last year Ford announced its intention to bring a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)-certified Level 4 autonomous vehicle to market by 2021 for use in a ride-hailing service, and earlier this year committed $US700 million ($A927.71 million) to overhaul its Michigan assembly plant to, among other things, incorporate production of self-driving vehicles.

GM, on the other hand, scored very well on the back of its $US500 million ($A662.65 million) investment in ride-hailing company Lyft in 2016 with the intention to develop the service into an automated one.

Last year also saw GM’s new Bolt electric vehicle (EV) go into production, with self-driving prototypes set to test mid-2017.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance, which last year launched its first Level 2 automated vehicle in Japan, came in third, while former CEO Carlos Ghosn announced the upcoming second-generation Leaf EV would utilise various self-driving systems.

Daimler scored well on its continual automated technology developed, evidenced by the self-driving capabilities found in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class, as well as its plans for a driverless heavy duty truck.

However, according to Navigant, “its position as a premium brand makes it inherently less accessible to mainstream audiences” and “it may not be able to grab as much market share as the companies ahead of it in the rankings”.

Below the ‘leaders’, Navigant has classified brands including the Volkswagen Group (75.9), Tesla (64.5), BMW (75.2), Hyundai (66.4), Toyota (64.2), Volvo (73.4), PSA Group (65.3), Google-owned Waymo (73.4) and parts suppliers Delphi (70.7) and ZF (64.0) in the ‘contenders’ category.

While tech start-up Tesla has made headlines with its Autopilot self-driving system, the report said “Tesla does not utilise lidar technology and does not have any mechanisms to keep the cameras clean in challenging weather” and that “all of the other companies in this report use lidar as part of their sensor suite, considering it essential to provide a robust automated driving solution”.

Rounding out the rest of the companies were brands such as Honda (55.1), Uber (54.5), nuTonomy (51.6) and Baidu (47.1), which fall into the ‘challengers’ class.

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