Though autonomous-vehicle companies are moving slowly toward making their technology available to the public, the industry’s top tier is steadily becoming entrenched, according to two analysts from the research and consulting firm Guidehouse Insights.
Each year, Guidehouse ranks some of the biggest names working on automated-driving technology, evaluating each on criteria including technology, strategy, and partnerships. Waymo once again placed first on Guidehouse’s 2021 list, and was joined in the “leaders” category by Nvidia, Argo AI, and Baidu – companies whose work received high marks from Guidehouse in 2020.
The bottom of Guidehouse’s list also remained unchanged, with the firm ranking Tesla last while criticizing the electric-car maker’s approach to testing its automated-driving technology.
Here’s how Guidehouse analysts Sam Abuelsamid and Scott Shepard ranked 15 of the top companies developing automated-driving tech.
Overall score: 34.7
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Throughout 2020, Palo Alto, California-based Tesla continued to push out incremental updates for its self-proclaimed full self-driving (FSD) feature including the ability to recognize and respond to traffic signs and signals.
“Like prior updates such as smart summon, both of the major 2020 updates have been problematic. The traffic sign and signal recognition has been challenging with many customers reporting that vehicles randomly stop at green lights before proceeding and often do not recognize basic signs such as stop signs.
“Tesla needs a thorough rethink of its approach to developing” its “ADS” (short for “automated driving system”). “It has overpromised with its marketing for nearly 5 years and severely undelivered. Until Tesla is more honest it is unlikely to improve in the rankings of this leaderboard.”
14. May Mobility
Overall score: 54.3
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Ann Arbor, Michigan-based May Mobility faced a number of challenges during 2020 including the loss of multiple senior executives early in the year and later the pandemic, which forced it to pause operations for several months. Two of May’s first four pilot programs in Providence, Rhode Island, and Columbus, Ohio, were terminated early. The GEM six-seat shuttles used by May Mobility had a number of reliability issues and lacked air conditioning systems.
“May Mobility has had some troubled pilot deployments that it hopes to put behind it with new services launching in 2021.”
Overall score: 54.9
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “AutoX is one of six companies” with “permits for on-road testing without a safety operator in California, US. In 2020, the company also began similar testing in Shenzhen, China.
“With a focus on the Chinese market, AutoX has a large addressable market, but it also faces significant competition, particularly from Baidu. AutoX would benefit from more OEM partners that want to integrate its ADS.”
Overall score: 56.1
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Gatik is targeting the middle-mile delivery market with light- to medium-duty commercial vehicles.
“Gatik launched its first pilot with Walmart near the retailer’s headquarters in Arkansas, US, in 2019 and added Canadian grocery chain Loblaw’s in 2020. Gatik is adding Walmart facilities in Louisiana, US, and will soon begin a fully driverless pilot in Arkansas, US.
“Gatik has targeted a potentially useful market niche, but it has yet to demonstrate that it can scale it effectively. It would benefit from a direct OEM deal to integrate the ADS into production vehicles.”
Overall score: 62.5
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Moscow-based Yandex continued to make progress on its development in 2020 despite the pandemic.
“Much of Yandex’s testing has occurred in areas with limited oversight. While it has shown promise, it has also demonstrated a willingness to move faster than the technological readiness. This strategy that has proven problematic for companies such as Uber in the past.”
Overall score: 67.1
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Unlike most of the other companies in this report, Nuro is focused entirely on the last-mile delivery market.
“With a focus on deliveries,” Nuro’s “purpose-built vehicle can be significantly less costly than a robotaxi that must support occupant protection. It also requires less maintenance such as cleaning. The unit economics, with optimized routing, are likely to be better than a robotaxi.
“Nuro’s public deployments have been limited. While the delivery business and purpose-built vehicle may have economic advantages in the near term, it has yet to be fully proven out.”
Overall score: 74.4
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “In June 2020, Amazon agreed to acquire Zoox for $1.2 billion and the transaction closed in August 2020.
“In December 2020, Zoox publicly revealed the purpose-built robotaxi vehicle it has been developing and initial prototypes are currently being tested…Zoox currently expects to start deploying the robotaxi in two-to-three years. Now, as part of Amazon, Zoox will have access to enormous technical and financial resources and a parent company that has built a reputation for patience in building businesses.
“Zoox has yet to publicly demonstrate its capabilities and the focus on passengers over goods delivery may limit the initial economic viability of its proposed services. A more diverse go-to-market strategy could be beneficial for Zoox.”
8. Aurora Innovation
Overall score: 74.6
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Palo Alto, California-based Aurora Innovation underwent a number of changes during 2020. It turned more of its development focus toward long-haul trucking applications, seeing that as a more viable initial market for deployment.
“Aurora’s development approach of limited on-road ADS testing, while relying on simulation to verify software, is good from a safety perspective. This approach, however, may prove to be problematic if the eventual on-road results do not match the simulations.”
Overall score: 75.3
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Mobileye continues to be the leading supplier of vision-based advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) to the auto industry.
“Mobileye continues to have a leading position in the ADAS market, and has a notable commitment to safe deployment of ADS. However, its current path of focusing on camera-centric ADS, with radar and lidar only for verification, may limit the system’s operational design domain.”
Overall score: 77.5
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Following a pause triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Motional resumed its commercial pilot robotaxi services Las Vegas, Nevada, in the fall of 2020 where it provided more than 100,000 paid rides through Lyft. Late in 2020, Motional also began its first public road testing in Las Vegas without a safety operator.
“Motional has publicly demonstrated its capabilities on the roads of Las Vegas, Nevada, with Lyft. However, the pilot operations there have not be allowed to complete trips to hotel drop-off points, which may indicate some limitations. Until, Motional can demonstrate complete end-to-end operations and expand beyond passenger carrying, it will limit its position on this leaderboard.
Overall score: 80.2
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “San Francisco-based Cruise hit several notable milestones in 2020 after missing its original target of launching a commercial robotaxi service by the end of 2019.
“The company has been doing extensive simulation testing of many global cities in preparation for eventually scaling commercial operations. The first commercial operations may launch by early 2022 in San Francisco, California.
“Although Cruise has established a strong base in San Francisco, California, and has notable OEM partners, it has been some time since it demonstrated its ADS outside of its organization. There are concerns that it may be struggling to meet its performance requirements, which may be why Cruise has delayed a commercial launch.”
Overall score: 79.7
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Beijing, China-based Baidu is the leading developer of ADSs in China and has partnerships with multiple OEMs to integrate and support its Apollo platform.
“To date, Baidu is the only ADS company to receive a permit for driverless testing in Beijing, China, although several others are doing similar tests in other cities.
“Baidu is strongly positioned in the Chinese market and offers an array of digital services that it can leverage for added revenues from robotaxis. Although China is expected to be the largest market for ADSs in the 2020s, it will also be a crowded market with many players. Additional partnerships on the hardware side could provide more opportunity for Baidu.”
3. Argo AI
Overall score: 81.2
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Argo is well-positioned financially and should have enough capital to carry it through until Ford and VW mobility services start to generate revenue over the next two years. However, additional partnerships or investments may be added in the coming years.
“Argo AI has been actively developing its technology across multiple diverse locations since 2017 including pilots with a variety of partner companies. However, it has yet to show off its capabilities in any sort of public-facing deployments with passengers. With a commercial launch still scheduled for 2022, demonstrating real-world capabilities… would help to improve scores.”
Overall score: 81.7
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “Nvidia hardware and software is widely used by most companies developing ADS. The first Nvidia Drive development platform was introduced in 2015 and new, more capable iterations have been rolled out on a regular basis ever since.
“Other than those that have selected Mobileye silicon, almost everyone else has at least some degree of Nvidia hardware in their systems. While Nvidia has a strong position on the compute hardware side, the company could move up in the ranking if more companies chose to adopt and build on its software platform.”
Overall score: 85.6
Highlights from Guidehouse’s analysis: “2020 was a critical year for both Waymo and the rest of the AV industry. Early in the year, the company got its first round of external funding… The new investment gives Waymo additional runway to grow revenue and reach profitability while reducing the spending by Alphabet.
“Waymo expanded its Waymo One ride-hailing service in Chandler, Arizona, and opened to members of the public. For the first time Waymo also gave rides to the public on certain routes in Chandler without a safety operator on board. Approximately 5%-10% of trips are conducted without a safety operator.
“As the AV industry consolidates, two automakers have now signed on to use the Waymo Driver system for future L4 vehicles.”