Detroit is kicking Silicon Valley’s ass in the race to build self-driving cars


Earlier today, Recode and several other outlets reported that Tesla is now worth more than Ford after delivering a record number of cars for the quarter. This news will no doubt lead to some celebration in Silicon Valley, which has sought to portray itself as the logical successor to Detroit as the capital of American innovation. But new research released today shows that the upstarts on the sunny West Coast — Uber, Google, and Tesla — still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to outpacing their rivals in chilly Michigan.

That’s the assessment of Navigant Research, which scored 18 companies working on self-driving technology on 10 different criteria related to strategy, manufacturing, and execution. The report then combined all that into an overall score to get a sense of who’s ahead and who’s not. General Motors and Ford are currently leading the pack, with Daimler and Renault-Nissan close behind. Those four companies make up Navigant’s “leader” category. In other words, when you climb into your first self-driving car in 2021, it will almost certainly be built by one of those four companies.

Screenshot: Navigant Research

Most everyone else is in the “contender” category. This includes car companies like BMW, PSA, Hyundai, Toyota, Tesla, and Volkswagen; suppliers like Delphi and ZF; and tech firms like Alphabet’s Waymo. Further down the list, in the “challengers” category, are companies like Honda, nuTonomy, Baidu, and Uber.

So why is Detroit beating Silicon Valley so badly in this all-too-crucial race to get autonomous vehicles on the road? According to Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst at Navigant and one of the authors of the report, the short answer is experience.