The Race to 2021: “The Who’s Who” of Industry Drivers

For this market profile report, we examined the autonomous offerings of 26 auto manufacturers and 50 hardware and software providers, uncovering the following insights and trends:

  • Semi-autonomous vehicles are the stepping stone to fully autonomous vehicles, with most car manufacturers and technology companies taking the lead of Tesla and offering features such as self-parking, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, and semi-hands off driving within highway/interstate conditions. Semi-autonomous features help consumers become comfortable with the idea of robots taking the wheel
  • Startups and technology leaders are driving the accelerated innovation in autonomous technology, forcing incumbents to partner, acquire, or ramp up R&D to compete (e.g. BMW and Baidu; Fiat Chrysler and Waymo, an Alphabet company; and GM and Lyft). Toyota, Intel, and Mercedes-Benz have dedicated business units. Automakers are essentially getting into the software/hardware and utility business as future profits will depend less on manufacturing, selling and financing automobiles and more on monetizing driving
  • Luxury car manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Maserati, and Porsche are looking toward a future where the driver still has an experiential role in autonomous vehicles. Cars will become platforms for passenger experience, creating a new canvas for cockpits and space
  • In addition to data science, social science is also becoming prevalent in autonomous development as companies such as Nissan and Audi take an anthropological approach to teach self-driving cars to act more human in their control and on-road actions (e.g. honking, signaling other people or vehicles, moving closer to lane marketing before switching lanes).
  • Large automakers, tech companies, and mobility providers are taking on “acqui-hiring” strategies, acquiring startups (or partnering with them) to absorb not only their technology but also their talent. We’ll see a surge in tech jobs in the autonomous industry in coming years on the programming and development side. And, in response to all the acquisitions and partnerships, we’re seeing other startups approach the market from a “plug and play” perspective; as in, their technology (hardware or software) can be easily retrofit into existing models of cars. This solidifies their position in the market without the need for a buyout, as their model works more like a supplier.
  • With the latest round of updates from CES, there is more focus on intelligent vehicles (e.g. Toyota, AutoLiv, Ford’s concept vision video). These self-driving cars can think on their own, communicate with other vehicles (V2V) through deep learning and AI. This means that all software that exists may run into compatibility issues when asked to communicate with other systems within a vehicle. This is similar to the interoperability conundrum the industry witnessed around IoT. However, when solved for, V2V opportunities abound in improving traffic experience, reducing accidents, and new value-added in-car design components.
  • Mapping software has emerged as its own category among technology providers in the autonomous space, as 3D terrain mapping is a critical component to the effectiveness and safety of self-driving cars as they navigate their environments.
  • Though most autonomous leaders are testing prototypes on the road in Silicon Valley, Austin, Pittsburgh and other metropoles, Honda and Hyundai are focusing their autonomous vehicle testing in large-scale controlled environments that allow for pedestrian situation testing as well as high-speed loops and simulated cityscapes.
  • Progressive automakers are repositioning their future foci away from just “making cars” to becoming mobility services and sharing companies, i.e. BMW, Daimler, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, VW, et al. To this trend, ride/hail companies are also attracting investments from traditional automakers to develop next-generation autonomous services. Toyota invested an undisclosed amount of money in Uber. Volkswagen AG invested $300 million in Gett, an Uber and Lyft competitor. General Motors Co. acquired a stake in Lyft.
  • Autonomous vehicles, to varying extents, are already operating in vertical applications such as farming, warehousing/inventory management, and construction. Uber, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz are also experimenting with other applications of self-driving technologies in city busses and semi-trucks.
  • Car makers will also become data companies, borrowing cues from Apple, Google, and Facebook to convert data into insights and customize consumer services to deliver value-added experiences. Companies such as BMW I Ventures and Toyota Research Institute are already partnering with data startups such as Nauto to share driver data as a means of more rapidly improving autonomous vehicle systems.

Brian Solis

Former Principal Analyst