A few years ago, Tesla seemed to be leading the race to develop self-driving cars. The company had rolled out a lane assistance feature, dubbed AutoPilot, leading to controversy related to the use of that name and overall consumer expectations of what a product labeled “AutoPilot” could reasonably achieve. Now, a new report from Navigant Research has dropped, rating the relative positions of various firms racing to develop self-driving cars — and it ranks Tesla dead last, behind the entire field. Even Uber ranks better, which has to be particularly galling, given that company’s various legal problems, accusations of IP theft, overall treatment of drivers, and customer privacy concerns.
Navigant’s take on Tesla’s AutoPilot is that the system has “stagnated and, in many respects, regressed since it was first launched in late 2015… More than one year after launching V2, Autopilot still lacks some of the functionality of the original, and there are many anecdotal reports from owners of unpredictable behavior.”
The research team notes that despite Musk’s claim of upgrading the systems in modern Tesla’s to capable of Level 5 automation in the future, they doubt this is practically achievable. Tesla vehicles, according to Navigant, lack self-cleaning sensors and redundant systems that are present on other vehicles to ensure self-driving systems remain fully functional under all conditions. Other companies, like Waymo and GM, have stressed redundancy, with multiple computers, redundant power supplies, and redundant controls for steering and braking systems to guard against the possibility that a single point of failure could lead to catastrophic outcomes.
Tesla talks a big game regarding self-driving cars, but most of its cars haven’t shipped with hardware that would be capable of Level 5 self-driving. It was only in October of 2017 that Nvidia began declaring its new Pegasus platform would be capable of Level 5. Its ad copy still asserts that its Drive PX2 systems are capable of “full self-driving capability,” but this doesn’t mean Level 5. Level 3 provides full self-driving capabilities under specific conditions, and Tesla’s earlier models may still qualify under this standard.
Tesla’s decision to part ways with MobilEye and its reliance on radar rather than lidar are seen as part of the reason the company has lagged behind the competition. Production problems with the Model 3 may also have seized the company’s attentions; it’s running far behind where it intended to be with its new mass model EV and isn’t expected to spin up to full production on the car for a few months yet. Still, Tesla has high mind share on the idea of a self-driving car, and could take a market value hit if customers begin associating the concept with companies like Ford or GM instead. Elon Musk has a habit of over-promising before eventually delivering several years past his initial target, but that could really cost his company here.