The last major shift in North American transportation occurred when people stopped riding in horse-drawn carriages and got behind the wheel. This happened over 100 years ago.
It’s no wonder then that today’s most profitable automakers were the pioneers of that period. Based on the infographic by a car insurance review site called Carsurance, the company to rake in the least revenue in 2017 was Tesla, one of the industry’s most innovative automobile manufacturers.
But we are in the dawn of a new era. 2019 is the year of the driverless vehicle - that is, unless restrictive regulations act as a roadblock.
Can traditional car manufacturers adapt soon enough and continue to rule the industry, or will the automotive ecosystem look completely different in the 22nd century? Let’s find out below which automakers are ahead of the pack so far.
Waymo Takes the Early Lead
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has ushered America into the future with the recent launch of its driverless taxi service - the first in the country.
Called Waymo One, the 24/7 service begins its journey in Phoenix, although it’s not yet available to everyone. Only those who previously participated in the program’s testing process have the privilege to request an autonomous vehicle pick-up.
The whole point is to demonstrate to the public that Waymo’s self-driving technology, which is retrofitted to Chrysler Pacifica minivans, works effectively and safely.
Despite the service’s novelty, Google’s sister company claims that its software is “The World’s Most Experienced Driver™.” According to Waymo, its technology has roamed more than 10 million miles on public roads and seven million more in simulation.
GM is a Close Second
Of all the automakers that want to get into the fast lane, only General Motors Company has plans to challenge Waymo in 2019. The Michigan-based automaker hopes to unveil its commercial fleet featuring steering wheel- and pedal-less Chevrolet Bolts.
But GM’s path to the race is full of roadblocks. In late 2018, the company received a backlash after suspending production at its five plants across the continent, leaving thousands of people jobless in the process to free up billions to develop its self-driving technology.
Ford Treats the Race Like a Marathon
Although the carmaker is in no rush to win the race for the first driverless vehicle on the road, it is more concerned about finishing without any scratches. In fact, Ford’s goal is to officially enter the autonomous delivery and ride-sharing competition in 2021.
Ford has been testing its self-driving midsize Fusion in major cities, such as Detroit and Miami, through its partnership with Postmates and Walmart. In early 2019, it plans to expand its efforts to the nation’s capital.
Tesla Might Eventually Leave Everyone in the Dust
Nobody should count Tesla out. Sure, 2018 was fraught with scandals, but the electric car company’s main source of chaos is also its symbol of hope, inspiration, and ingenuity.
In a recent interview, CEO Elon Musk boldly claimed that Tesla will be the first to put fully self-driving cars on the road in 2019. Not only that, he said that because self-driving is a software problem, he would be surprised if other automakers outsmart Tesla.
Such confident statements naturally raise many eyebrows, considering that Tesla’s autopilot technology has been linked to numerous accidents, including one that led to a casualty of an Apple engineer.
In light of the controversies surrounding Tesla and Musk, it is easy for one to cast doubt on their reliability. But the billionaire has a history of beating the odds and proving naysayers wrong, and his pedigree should lend some credibility to his declarations.
The public will likely need to wait for years before purchasing driverless vehicles, but the first of their kind are already acting as robot taxis and groceries-fetching butlers. And whichever automaker nails the self-driving technology and wins the race, in the end, humanity will be the ultimate winner.
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© Karthik Reddy 2019