In March Navigant Research released its annual Leaderboard: Automated Driving Vehicles, an assessment of strategy and execution for 20 companies developing automated driving systems. The analyst firm said that 2018 proved to be a year of both advancement and setbacks on the road to commercialization of passenger vehicle automated driving systems. It said that several companies now provide some form of revenue-generating automated mobility services, and more are expected to debut in 2019.
However, 2018 also saw the first fatal accident with a developmental automated vehicle, with Uber in Arizona. As of the end of 2018, all automated driving “vendors” have one thing in common—none is providing commercial services without a human safety operator onboard the vehicle when carrying passengers. As work has progressed in validating automated driving technology, key obstacles include predicting other road-user behavior and function during poor weather. Companies developing suitable business models in conjunction with the core technology remain most likely to succeed in commercializing applications.
The top 10 vendors according to Navigant were Waymo, GM Cruise, Ford Autonomous Vehicles, Aptiv, Intel/Mobileye, Volkswagen Group, Daimler/Bosch, Baidu, Toyota, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. The companies now providing revenue-generating automated mobility services include Aptiv/Lyft, May Mobility, and Waymo, with GM Cruise expected to join in 2019.
Public perception of automated driving is mixed, says Navigant. Surveys of the general population showed increasing levels of concern and disenchantment with the technology. However, when people get to experience automated driving, despite the limited conditions of the experience, they frequently come away with a positive impression.
About a month after the Navigant Research release, Tesla’s Autonomy Investor Day was expected to provide a chance for the electric vehicle maker to demonstrate the capabilities of its new computer currently in production that it says will allow for “full self-driving via future over-the-air software updates.” In the lead up to that event, Autolist.com asked 1650 current car shoppers which company they trusted the most to eventually bring to market a self-driving vehicle.
Tesla was the most trusted name in the industry for the second year in a row, the survey found, with 24% of respondents choosing the company. While that result bodes well for Tesla, it’s also a notable drop from an identical 2018 survey which found that 32% of consumers trusted Tesla the most to bring to market a self-driving vehicle.
The study also found that 22% percent of respondents said that they didn’t trust any company to bring a self-driving car to market, a drop from 27% in 2018. Toyota was the most-trusted legacy automaker for the second year in a row, with 18% of respondents now saying that they trust the company the most to bring to market a self-driving car—up from 15 % last year. General Motors saw the biggest gains year-over-year, with 15% of consumers trusting the company the most, a jump from 9% in 2018. Despite its well-publicized incident in Arizona, Uber moved up slightly from 6% to 7% as most-trusted.
As with most Tesla offerings, its Autopilot system sparks controversy, both with consumers and within the industry, but also a lot of attention. It is the best-known example of a semi-autonomous system currently available, and an update earlier this month now allows Tesla vehicles to drive on freeways from on-ramp to off-ramp without driver intervention including automatic lane changes.
Yet critics of Tesla’s Autopilot have pointed out that, while the system is one of the most advanced on the market, it doesn’t yet have a robust driver monitoring system like General Motors’ well-regarded Cadillac Super Cruise hands-free semi-autonomous freeway driving system that’s available on its CT6. This, plus the fact that Tesla has marketed the most advanced version of the Autopilot system as “Full Self Driving” could lead to a false sense of security. However, the Tesla experience proves that, just like with its push for electrification, the disruptive new automaker is influencing consumer perceptions on the autonomy front.
Technology demonstrations, whether production- or future-oriented, can only help educate potential consumers on the safety and other benefits of automated driving systems. Recent public tests conducted by SAE International and Aptiv showed a marked improvement in consumer attitude before and after riding in a vehicle with automated capabilities.