10 Companies Making Self-Driving Cars a Reality [2018]

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Things to remember...

Like it or not, cars that drive themselves are not just on their way . . . they are here NOW. These driverless cars aren’t starting out in your driveway or your neighbor’s, but rather on the commercial level with AV (autonomous vehicle) ride-hailing and world-wide driverless delivery.

Autonomous vehicles are already gaining the public’s trust and approval by saving money, time, and lives.

Not too long ago you would never get in a car with a stranger. Now you click a few buttons on your phone to request a complete stranger come to your home and drive you to your destination.

You may not love the sound of it at this moment, but we’re betting one day in the very near future you will click one of those same apps on your phone to hail a car with NO DRIVER to come pick you up and take you where you want to go. After all, humans make mistakes and break laws . . . robots don’t.

Once you remove the driver from the ride-hailing taxi equation, top analysts predict the industry will grow eight times its current worth to $285 billion by 2030.

Peter Rafferty — who is involved in the U.S. government’s testing of driverless vehicles — explains how AVs will be saving thousands of lives each year:

“The important point with the almost 40,000 fatalities is that over 90 percent of those are attributable in some way to human or driver error. The automated vehicles… they don’t fall asleep, they don’t get drunk, they see all around them. They react much faster. So that’s where big safety gains are going to be happening.”

Here’s what you’ll find below:

10 Companies Making Self-Driving Cars a Reality in 2018


Read on to discover which businesses are paving the way for the autonomous vehicles that will soon take over American roads.

The below 10 to 1 countdown is based on each company’s autonomous vehicle release date. And this doesn’t refer to test fleets, which have been on roadways since 2015. Our below report lays out all the information available on what each company has in the works for their fully functioning autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads.

When a company’s dates were vague or multiple companies released the same time frame, a tie was broken by how much the company has invested in the research and development of their AV project. As tech history proves, money speeds up the desired results. Read our full methodology here.

#10 – Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi

AV Release Date: by 2022
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partner: Microsoft

In 2017, this current top-selling team began working together to build fully self-driving, fully electric cars. This year, 2018, they started testing autonomous taxis in Japan.

GM’s Super Cruise has been the talk of the town since September 2017.

However, this three-company-alliance can manufacture their autonomous package, ProPILOT Assist, at a much higher rate than GM can their Super Cruise.

Rate and cost of manufacturing is pivotal at this stage of the game.

Microsoft News Center reports, “The Renault-Nissan Alliance is pioneering autonomous driving and connectivity features on mainstream, mass-market vehicles at affordable prices…Microsoft Azure provides a proven, secure global cloud platform with unlimited scale that allows Renault-Nissan to deliver services worldwide to its broad customer base.”

#9 – Volvo-Autoliv-Ericsson-Zenuity

AV Release Date: by 2021
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: Luminar and Uber

This team has made some ingenious moves to help establish its position as an autonomous vehicle leader:

  • 2015: Volvo became the first company to accept full liability if anyone got injured by one of their vehicles while in autonomous driving mode
  • 2016: Volvo made a shocking pledge: By 2020, there would be no serious injuries or deaths in one of their new cars

Autonomous Volvos have been vigorously tested for years now, and not just by hired drivers.

Since 2017 in Sweden, selected families have been given self-driving Volvos to test on all their daily drives, and this Volvo alliance has been conducting what they call the “most advanced autonomous driving experiment”: 100 fully autonomous XC90s being tested by Chinese citizens.

“It’s important we work with ordinary customers, real people,” Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s senior tech leader said. “It’s not enough to just have test engineers driving cars around on a track — we want to see how people use a self driving car, do they feel comfortable, do they feel safe.”

In August of 2016, Volvo teamed with Uber in a joint autonomous vehicle project where they invested a combined $300 million. In October of 2017, the Volvo alliance opened MobilityXlab in Sweden to further their work on cutting-edge AV technology.

In June of 2018, this team partnered with Luminar. Luminar makes a lidar that outperforms the former industry leader, Velodyne, plus Luminar makes theirs at a much lower price point.

Forrester Analyst, Laura Koetzle says, “Volvo is a company we should keep a watch on. They’ve been doing a lot and not saying much.”

#8 – Ford

AV Release Date: by 2021
Initial Purpose: Taxis & Delivery Trucks
Partner: Argo AI

This is our countdown’s first one-brand team. However, in February of 2017, Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI, a new company of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Ford has been working with Dominos and Postmates to test self-driving cars for delivering pizza and packages in Michigan and Florida since August of 2017 .

In August of 2016, Ford paid Velodyne $75 million for their lidars, then in October of 2017 decided to buy the lidar maker startup company, Princeton Lightwave.

Ford has been a front-runner in the race to AVs since 2007 when a Ford Hybrid Escape made it to the DARPA Grand Challenge finals, an autonomous vehicle competition created by the U.S. Department of Defense because they needed self-driving vehicles for the military.

This top-selling brand has been testing its autonomous vehicles for over ten years now. In 2015, Ford became the very first automaker to test self-driving cars in the snow and at MCity.

Self-driving hybrid Fusions have been tested in Arizona, California, and Michigan since 2016 — that fleet grew to 90 test AVs in 2017.

In July of 2018, Ford stated it will invest a total of $4 billion in its research and development of driverless cars through 2023.

At the Detroit Auto Show in Jan of 2017, Ford CEO Mark Fields laid out Ford’s AV timeline: a “Level 4 vehicle in 2021, no gas pedal, no steering wheel, and the passenger will never need to take control of the vehicle in a predefined area.”

#7 – BMW-Intel-FCA

AV Release Date: 2020-2021
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: Aptiv, Magna Int, and Mobileye

Although not in the name, this team also acquired the global tech leader, Mobileye for $15.3 billion in March of 2017 after Mobileye left Tesla. And in October of 2017, this three-man alliance hired Magna International as the supplier of their lidar.

In 2017, this alliance had 40 driverless cars being tested on public roads, and at the start of 2018 that fleet was increased to nearly 150 total AV prototypes.

The all-electric, all-autonomous BMW this partnership plans to produce with its 435 mile range (on a single charge!) is predicted to outperform Tesla, be “groundbreaking” and cause “widespread disruption.”

In the race to AV development, the interwoven partnerships get quite confusing. It’s important to note that although Intel and FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) are both part of this BMW team, they also have strong partnerships with Waymo and other successful businesses. Regardless of who wins, Intel and FCA are likely to be leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry of the very near future.

“In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said. “Joining this cooperation [BMW and Intel] will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.”

#6 – Groupe PSA

AV Release Date: 2020
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: AImotive and nuTonomy

The strategic partnerships Groupe PSA has made are monumental in this race to the first autonomous vehicles. AImotive offers cutting-edge artificial intelligence critical for self-thinking, self-driving cars, and PSA’s other big partner — the startup company from MIT, nuTonomy — launched the world’s first self-driving taxis — before Uber!

nuTonomy CEO and co-founder Karl lagnemma says, “We’re confident that working with Groupe PSA will bring us closer to our goal of deploying a safe, efficient, fully autonomous mobility-on-demand transportation service for urban driving environments.”

PSA also accomplished a remarkable worlds-first of their own, when in February of 2017 they became the first automaker given permission to have their autonomous cars tested by non-expert drivers. Since July of 2015, PSA has test driven their AVs on over 74,500 miles of public highways.

There is an in-depth timeline for when Groupe PSA will release their various levels of self-driving cars complete with intriguing multimedia on their website. Here are some of the groundbreaking highlights:

  • 2018 – Automatic driving functions will be “under driver supervision”
  • 2020 – Driver can “fully delegate” the driving responsibilities to the car

According to Groupe-PSA, “The Groupe PSA is deploying its AVA “Autonomous Vehicle for All” programme to build an autonomous car that is simple and intuitive, offering a driving experience that is safe and comfortable.”

#5 – Volkswagen Group

AV Release Date: by 2020
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: Aurora and NVIDIA

When it comes to the first races of the biggest autonomous vehicle competition — funded by the U.S. Department of Defense — a Volkswagen outperformed all the rest. A VW Touareg, named Stanley, was the first ever to win the DARPA Challenge. And a VW Passat, named Junior, finished ahead of the Ford Escape earning 2nd place in the 2007 race.

Stanley and Junior won the Stanford/VW team a combined $3 million in prize money, and Volkswagen was off to a fabulous head start in the race to fully autonomous vehicles.

Here’s a list of some of Volkswagen’s impressive firsts to help them gain their lead in the AV race:

  • First to win the autonomous vehicle race, DARPA Grand Challenge (discussed above)
  • First company granted a permit to test their self-driving cars on California’s public roadways (permit given in 2015)
  • First to have one of its cars on the market, the 2018 Audi A8, with level three autonomous driving capabilities (read a detailed explanation of the autonomy levels here)
  • First company, with the help from NVIDIA, to successfully incorporate artificial intelligence in their production-ready hardware

In January of 2018, Volkswagen partnered with Aurora, an autonomous tech startup founded in 2016, then in June Volkswagen and NVIDIA came together to form the Networking for Autonomous Vehicles (NAV) Alliance.

“Self-driving cars have become data centers on wheels constantly analyzing vast amounts of data to endeavor to ensure the safest and most secure experience for passengers, pedestrians, and other vehicles.” – Volkswagen June 26, 2018

At the start of 2015, an Audi A7 already proved it could complete a 550 mile journey on its own, so it seems realistic that Volkswagen will reach its goal of autonomous VWs for ride-hailing spread across several U.S. cities by 2020.

#4 – Daimler-Bosch

AV Release Date: early 2020
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: NVIDIA and Uber

In April of 2017 the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler, joined forces with the hardware supplier, Bosch, to design and manufacture their own fully autonomous vehicles.

Daimler reports, “Bosch and Daimler are joining forces to advance the development of fully automated and driverless driving…The project combines the total vehicle expertise of the world’s leading premium manufacturer with the system and hardware expertise of the world’s biggest supplier. The ensuing synergies should ensure the earliest possible series introduction of the secure technology.”

In July of 2018 it was announced that this powerhouse team would also be using NVIDIA to create the artificial intelligence being used in their AVs. In January of 2017, Daimler decided its robo-taxis would function on Uber’s global ridesharing network.

Daimler-Bosch has accomplished some exciting firsts for autonomous technology. In May of 2015, they became the first company to have an autonomous truck, their “Freightliner Inspiration Truck,” on U.S. public roadways.

And, they created the very first “Automated Valet Parking.” This technology allows the Mercedes-Benz to automatically drive itself from a drop-off area to an open parking spot seamlessly—all by a simple click in an app.

“Parking by yourself is so yesterday” – Daimler

This team of experts doesn’t just want to win the autonomous vehicle race, they want to decrease urban traffic and increase mobility in America.

They plan to kick this off with a test fleet of driverless taxis in Silicon Valley beginning in 2019, and releasing these robo-taxis for public use at the start of the next year. From 2020-2025, Daimler-Bosche plans “large-scale commercial production” of their level 4 and 5 AVs.

Mercedes-Benz Director of Automated Driving, Michael Hafner said, “We are getting close to autonomous driving faster than many suspect.”

#3 – Aptiv

AV Release Date: by 2019
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: Lyft and BMW

Not long ago Aptiv was known as Delphi Automotive, so you have to do your research on both names to learn exactly where this business is and how they got there. Don’t worry, we did that for you.

For the second time in this elite countdown we bring up a young, yet popular name in the autonomous industry, nuTonomy. Aptiv didn’t feel like sharing this goldmine of experts, so in 2017 they made an offer. The fact that Aptiv paid $450 million for nuTonomy, shows the startup born in 2013 is doing quite well in this competitive field.

It’s been said that nuTonomy’s self-driving technology is the best, just after Waymo’s. Hopefully Aptiv has found a way to make it even better.

Before Aptiv bought nuTonomy, both companies already had self-driving taxis in Singapore being tested since 2016.

However, Aptiv’s biggest advancement in the AV race — quite possibly the biggest to date — was what Aptiv and Lyft accomplished in Vegas earlier this year. In January of 2018 at the biggest tech event of the year, CES, Aptiv had level 4 self-driving BMW 5 series driving people to over 20 locations along the strip via Lyft.

Due to their successful trial run at the convention, in May Aptiv launched 30 AVs to transport people across an even larger Lyft network in Vegas.

Like many businesses, Aptiv will have the first use of their autonomous vehicles be ride-hailing, and Lyft set a goal of the majority of their rides being driverless by 2021 — this makes for a dynamic duo.

Kate Sampson, VP of Risk Solutions at Lyft said, “I think it’s just going to be so much safer that I envision a time down the road where if someone takes out their car keys, you’ll kind of look at them and say, ‘You still drive? Aren’t you using an autonomous car?’ because so many of the accidents are going to be caused by human drivers, not by the robot cars.”

#2 – General Motors

AV Release Date: by 2019
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partner: Lyft

Most of the leaders in the autonomous vehicle race have partners; GM, an inarguable frontrunner, has purchases . . . and lots of them. Even their one big partnership with Lyft was nearly an acquisition.

Here’s where some of GM’s money went as they made their way to the top:

  • January 2016: GM spent $500 million to buy 9 percent stake in Lyft
  • March 2016: GM spent $1 billion to fully own Cruise Automation
  • April 2017: GM invested $14 million on an AV research and development facility
  • October 2017: GM bought Strobe — amount undisclosed (it was a lot)

GM’s purchase of the 11-person lidar maker startup, Strobe, was critical because it allowed the company to cut the cost of making the lidar sensors by an astronomical 99 percent.

Kyle Vogt, Cruise founder and CEO, says, “Our mission is to remove the driver from the vehicle and ultimately deploy these vehicles at massive scale… The idea that lidar is too costly or exotic to use in a commercial product is now a thing of the past.”

Thanks to the big moves listed above, by June of 2017, GM already had 180 Bolts fitted with the Cruise Automation self-driving technology. They have been testing these prototypes for well over a year now.

GM has big plans for 2019, and it’s already in the works. Dan Ammann, GM president, said, “We intend to launch a commercial ride-share service at commercial scale in 2019. That will begin in one city and scale up in that city and move to other cities after that.”

Since the fall of 2017 GM has had the Cadillac CT6 equipped with Super Cruise, the “world’s first true hands-free driving system for the freeway.”

In January of 2018 GM requested permission from the U.S. DOT to have fully autonomous cars (no steering wheels or pedals) on U.S. roads in 2019 for use in a commercial ride-hailing service, before Ford, Uber, and Waymo.

GM announced on March 15, 2018 that they would be investing over $100 million to begin production of their Chevy Bolts, called Cruise AVs, at their Orion and Brownstown plants in Michigan.

“We’re continuing to make great progress on our plans to commercialize in 2019” said Amman. “Our Orion and Brownstown teams have proven experience in building high-quality self-driving test vehicles and battery packs, so they are well-prepared to produce the Cruise AV.”

This isn’t just going to be huge for the auto industry of America, but this will make GM very rich.

GM earned a profit margin of 7.5 percent on its $166 billion revenue in 2016. With their projected driverless car services, by 2025, GM would likely increase those profit margins to 20-30 percent!

We aren’t the only ones putting GM at the front of the race to AVs. Since May of 2017 GM’s stock has increased by 15.4 percent. And GM predicted they would be “first” long before that.

December 15, 2016, GM CEO Marry Barra published an article on LinkedIn stating: “We expect to be the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles in a mass-production assembly plant.”

#1 – Waymo

AV Release Date: in 2018
Initial Purpose: Robot Taxis
Partners: Avis, FCA, Intel, Lyft, and Honda

The company with the earliest estimated AV release date, that used to be known as “Google’s self-driving car project,” has had a laser focus on autonomous technology for cars since 2009 — three times as long as most of their competition.

Business Insider has this to say: “Google’s project, now spun out into its own company called Waymo, is by many accounts the furthest along in self-driving technology.”

Here’s a timeline for Waymo’s various accomplishments as it became a worldwide autonomous vehicle leader:

Michael Ramsey, Gartner Research Director, says “They’re years ahead in on-road testing and the human-machine interface, and they’ve already developed all their own sensors and compute systems onboard.”

Waymo is predicted to release a fleet of paid self-driving robotaxis before 2018 is over, which if accomplished would put Waymo at the autonomous car finish line ahead of all the rest.

Top 3 Honorable Mentions: Pursuing Self-Driving Cars

In addition to the companies and their partners listed above, we would like to name three other businesses pursuing autonomous vehicles that are not too far behind.

The below three companies are listed in alphabetical order, because we did not rank them according to their projected timeline or the money they have invested in AV research as we did for the top ten in this study. Our time was better spent giving you the facts on breakthroughs happening in the automotive industry.

– Apple

Since early 2014 there have been rumors and excitement surrounding an electric, self-driving “Apple Car.” In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced they were building autonomous technology for use in cars.

However in August of 2017 Apple was clearly far behind: “Apple’s autonomous driving technology is at about the stage where Google’s self-driving car project ‘was three years ago’” according to Business Insider.

Nevertheless, with a market value at $1 trillion in August of 2018, Apple shouldn’t be overlooked in this race.

Navigant Research, which studies auto technology, reported earlier this year that while Apple has “never developed a product as complex as an automobile,” it does have “existing capabilities that make it uniquely positioned to participate in the automated driving space.”

– Hyundai

The Korea Herald reported: “Hyundai is at least five to six years behind companies like Google that have been investing heavily in the development of AI technologies for years.”

Which is why in 2016 Hyundai announced it would be investing over $1.7 billion and hiring more than 3,000 employees to increase its autonomous vehicle task force.

Hyundai has been testing its self-driving cars on public roads in the U.S. since 2015 and in Korea since 2016.

Hyundai is focused on bringing an autonomous vehicle to market that is affordable for the individual buyer.

With the help of Aurora, Hyundai plans to have driverless taxis at the commercial level by 2021, fully autonomous driving on highways by 2020, and in urban areas by 2030.

– Tesla

In January of 2017 Tesla co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, responded to eager fans on Twitter that in “3 months maybe, 6 months definitely Teslas would have “full self-driving capability” rather than just the enhanced autopilot . . . This has yet to happen.

In October of 2016, Musk said that by 2017 we would be able to drive a Tesla from LA to NYC without touching the steering wheel or needing to charge it. Months later, this was postponed to at least the middle of 2018, and we’re still waiting.

Time has proven Musk’s claims to be fruitless. Tech specialists at The Verge published an article in January of 2018 illustrating why Tesla is no longer a frontrunner for self-driving cars: “Tesla is over-promising and underperforming.”

Navigant Research doesn’t even have Tesla ranked as a top fifteen for businesses pursuing autonomous vehicles. Telsa is not considered a “contender” or “leader” in the self-driving race by Navigant’s expert analysts.

It’s also a bad sign that Mobileye, which now has strong partnerships with nearly every major automaker, chose to leave Tesla in 2016.

For a while now, Tesla has been the only company that doesn’t think lidar is necessary for its fully autonomous vehicles. Speaking on lidar, Musk said: “In my view, it’s a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very hard to get out of. Perhaps I am wrong, and I will look like a fool. But I am quite certain that I am not.”

Driverless Driving in America

It’s clear that the beginning of autonomous vehicles in America will be self-driving taxis since every one of the AV leaders is starting there.

“Many experts agree that ride-sharing appears to be an ideal business match with autonomous vehicles.” – U.S. News & World Report

Why? Money. When there’s no driver to pay, big money is banked.

Reuters explained it well: “Autonomous cars will allow carmakers to disrupt the taxi market which is run by fleet operators and ride-hailing firms. Without having to pay drivers, ride-hailing could become more cost effective and compete against other forms of transport including buses.”

We’re talking MORE money than the biggest businesses make building and selling cars!

Handelsblatt Global says, “Mobility services, such as self-driving taxis and trucks or car-sharing, could one day bring in more revenue than simply making and selling vehicles.”

Watch out, world. Autonomous vehicles are soon to be the chauffeur, designated driver, and best friend you never knew you needed.

Methodology

The above top ten ranking was determined by the most recent projected release dates provided by the businesses pursuing autonomous vehicles in the United States. The ranking was not altered according to test vehicles, only the autonomous vehicles performing their purpose without safety drivers.

When multiple companies released the same time frame, a better ranking was given to the company that had invested more money in the research and development of their self-driving vehicles, because that was a concrete difference between them that often means results.

In addition to the top ten, our article included three “honorable mentions.” These were chosen by popularity and rumors alone and were not ranked at all, but rather listed in alphabetical order. We knew many readers would be disappointed to have an article on autonomous vehicles not even mention some of their favorites.

Many of our sources were linked in the article itself, but click here to see the full six-page list of our sources and other inspirational articles on whose autonomous vehicles will be coming to America first.

For all media inquiries, please email: Josh Barnes

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