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Traditional automakers lead the way on self-driving cars, study reveals

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Automakers and tech companies are battling over the future of the car. A new study reveals who's winning, and why.

Tech companies’ efforts to disrupt the auto industry and take the lead in self-driving cars may get a lot of press, but the companies that actually build cars still have the advantage.

That’s the conclusion of a new Navigant Research study ranking companies’ progress in developing self-driving cars, and their perceived ability to bring autonomous driving to the consumer market. Navigant surveyed 18 companies, including both traditional automakers and tech firms. The automakers came out on top.

Ford was ranked the leader in autonomous-car development, followed by General Motors and the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Daimler and the Volkswagen Group rounded out the top five. Waymo was the highest-ranked non-automaker, in seventh place. Tesla and Uber were ranked 12th and 16th, respectively.

In a previous study published in 2015 that didn’t include tech companies, Ford placed outside the top five. The Blue Oval placed higher this time around thanks in part to partnerships with companies that supply relevant tech, including lidar supplier Velodyne and 3D mapmaker Civil Maps. Ford also has concrete plans to launch a production self-driving car for ride-sharing services in 2021. Since it’s already in the business of making cars, Ford has the means to do it.

In contrast, Uber lost points for not having a clear way to commercialize its self-driving tech. While the company is testing autonomous cars on public roads, it’s run into a few snags. One of the cars was involved in a crash last week, and Uber is currently fighting a lawsuit from Waymo, which claims the ride-sharing company benefitted from data stolen by one of its former employees.

Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, has been testing autonomous cars for years, but hasn’t found a way to commercialize the tech. It’s now working with Chrysler on a fleet of 100 autonomous Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and may partner with Honda was well. Because while tech companies may be able to develop autonomous-driving systems on their own, they still can’t build the cars that will use those systems. And building cars is not a trivial task.