Forbes Global 2000: Who is going to make the first autonomous car?

The competition is tough. The names are big. Forbes Global 2000 listed tech and automobility companies are in a breathtaking race to be the first one to release fully autonomous cars, but who is going to make it first?

Forbes_Global

Although, they look relaxed and self-confident in press conferences, the CEO’s of the self-driving car companies should be asking the same question to themselves.

In this challenge, long established automotive companies, as General Motors and Ford, are thought to be more advantageous as they hold more than a hundred years old know-how and tradition based on car manufacturing, but would this be enough to put them into the pole position?

Google and Apple are also in the competition as autonomous driving are supposed to be the next big thing in next decade. Waymo (Google affiliate), although they lost the key staff to a startup called Aurora Innovation recently, is the leader in autonomous car testing in terms of mileage they made: 4 million kilometres! Without a specific car platform, could Waymo’s expertise make them the Autonomous Rockstar?

To answer all these questions, I cherry-picked candidates for you and prepared a list with all the info you need: Company Ranking in Forbes Global 2000 list, autonomy level, development summary and how likely to be the first. Check this out!

Baidu

File Dec 09, 9 30 18 PM

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 390

Autonomy: Level 4

Chinese internet search-engine giant did not miss the opportunity to confront American Big Tech companies and started to work on autonomous vehicles in 2014 with an aggressive pace. Their project is called ‘Apollo’ and this can be taken as a sign of their ambition.

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BMW

BMW_Baidu_driverless_Cars_China

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 51

Autonomy: Likely to be Level 5

After giving up the partnership with Chinese tech giant Baidu, BMW, Intel and Mobileye formed a super-alliance and later on Delphi and Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) joined the group. Hold on? Did FCA not partner Waymo in autonomous driving research?

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Ford Motor Company

Argo-self-driving-ford-679x382

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 64

Autonomy: Level 4

August 2016: Ford was the first company to announce its target date, 2021, to launch its mass-produced fully autonomous cars. Mark Fields, the former Ford CEO, said “Our goal is not only be an auto company but an auto and mobility company.” and his statement echoed in press as an ambition to make Ford a technology company rather than a simply car manufacturer.

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General Motors

GMCruise

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 40

Autonomy: Level 4

GM shows no tolerance to be outdated by other car manufacturers and Big Tech firms and it pioneers technological advances, like connected cars and Internet of Things.

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Mercedes-Benz (Daimler)

Mercedes-Self-Driving-Trip

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 28

Autonomy: Level 4

Merc stands out among all other companies for one reason: it is the only company produces cars, trucks, buses and even military off-road vehicles under the same brand as well as the only company who revealed its plans on autonomous driving in almost all categories.

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Tesla

tesla-autopilot_100564678_l

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 933

Autonomy: Already Level ~3, Level 4 and 5 on the way

Tesla released its first Level ~3 cars in 2016 and it has been developing and releasing the newer versions of its Autopilot technology since then. It also upgraded the hardware in its cars in 2017 to make them Level 4+ ready. Industry is questioning the reliability of Tesla’s LIDAR-less approach, yet Elon Musk is well known for making ‘thought-to-be impossible’, possible.

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Toyota

Lexus_self-driving

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 10

Autonomy: Likely to be Level 4

Toyota announced a $1 billion investment in Toyota Research Institute (TRI) as a 5-year plan in 2015 and since then it sped up the autonomous driving technology research. TRI focuses on not only autonomous driving but also Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

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Volkswagen

Volkswagen

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 28

Autonomy: Level 5

In 2007, Stanford Racing won the 2nd prize in DARPA Urban Challenge with an autonomous Volkswagen Passat Wagon, called RoadRunner. Average speed they achieved during the race was 22 km/h and it took 4.5 hour to finish the whole race. Volkswagen, as expected, was one of the sponsors of the team and since then it kept investing money in driving assistance and autonomous driving.

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Waymo (Google)

waymo-autonomous-minivan-980x620

Forbes Global 2000 Ranking: 24

Autonomy: Level 4

Google kicked off the first genuinely self-driving car project ever in 2009. You would argue with this bold statement, but please correct me if I am wrong: no one ever called their project as ‘Self-Driving Car Project’.

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Conclusion

Based on the provided facts, Big Tech Companies are doing good but not good enough. Baidu comes definitely the last in this list because of its broken alliance with BMW and its relatively weak partners. The other Big Tech company in our list, Waymo could offer the first autonomous ride-hailing service in US, yet it is still lacking a proper alliance with a car maker.

German car manufacturers are strong competitors in self-driving technology, but apart from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and VW look like, they are after strategic partnerships with key hardware and service providers to share the responsibility and massive workload. I am an Automotive professional and I know, how it feels like to work with various hardware and software suppliers in the same project. It never goes flawless. Because of this reason, German alliances would end up in a deadlock situation.

Our humble Toyota is still more convincing than its German competitors (except Mercedes-Benz). Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley is a key asset for Toyota’s autonomous research and it can freely benefit from the startup ecosystem in Palo Alto, which is the case for other US car manufacturers like Tesla, GM or Ford.

Tesla could make it to the top three, yet its Lidarless approach is questionable for me as well. Lidar simply generates the essential 3D maps for machine learning algorithms of AVs and Tesla may have to revise their system layout. Thus, I expect a delay in its launch.

My top three is Mercedes-Benz, Ford and GM. Merc is taking firm steps forward and implementing its self-driving technology in all vehicle platforms. This means, Merc will collect more data in various vehicle, driving and environmental conditions compared to other OEMs that can be useful for creating cutting-edge technology. Its partners Intel and MobilEye are also the leaders of their industries.

GM looks like quite close to launch their self-driving Chevy Bolts soon, but without convincing the customers with loads of demonstrations in different environments and emergency conditions, GM would risk its reputation after the first AV car accident on YouTube and I think 2018 is not a realistic target for this. (Remember what happened to Tesla in 2016.)

Lastly, Ford looks like the ultimate leader in AV research. It acquired several startups at an Apple-like pace, also invested money in key technology firms. Ford’s goal is becoming an Automotive and Mobility Company. And executives are doing well, in terms of transforming and reshaping the company. Best to our knowledge, Ford has the biggest autonomous car fleet, and its plan is to expand road tests to Europe. This means: Data. More data… The key for developing the best in class AV cars.

Ford set a reasonable due date: 2021 is the announced launch date for self-driving Fusion sedans. If GM and Merc cannot surprise us, Ford will put the AV King’s crown on its head.

What do you think? Who is likely to be the first?

11 thoughts on “Forbes Global 2000: Who is going to make the first autonomous car?

  1. Level 5 autonomy, which is no steering wheels and no pedals, the race is between #BMW, #DAIMLER and #WAYMO, and WAYMO will win. I am not going to bet the other half of my mohawk yet.

    Secondly, #GM is saying a lot, but i cant give them a chance, especially because i am currently changing the entire motor in my Chevy Suburban and it’s less than 5 years old, $9k in less than 1 year to repair this engine. If they cant build a proper engine, can we trust them with #level5 autonomous vehicles?

    Liked by 1 person

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