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Ford leads self-driving tech pack, outpacing Waymo, Tesla, Uber: Study

An Uber driverless Ford Fusion drives down Smallman Street on September, 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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An Uber driverless Ford Fusion drives down Smallman Street on September, 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ford Motor is in pole position when it comes to benefiting from the coming age of autonomous vehicles.

That's the conclusion of a study released Monday by Navigant Research, which sells its in-depth surveys of energy and transportation markets to suppliers, policymakers and other industry stakeholders.

The Dearborn-based automaker took the top spot by demonstrating that it has the strategic vision and execution capabilities to both develop automated driving systems as well as deploy them across a range of mobility platforms.

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Many automakers are targeting 2021 for a roll-out of AVs that likely will be part of a ride-sharing network. Personal AV ownership is considered far off due to high purchase and maintenance costs.

"Many traditional OEMs were initially skeptical about the commercial prospects for automated driving," Navigant's study says. "Most notable was Ford under its previous CEO Alan Mulally, who frequently spoke publicly about how people actually enjoy driving. However, through a combination of strategic investments and development of supporting business models, Ford and other OEMs have begun to move to the forefront."

In close second was General Motors, followed by Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler. Navigant's 2015 survey did not include technology companies, who in the past few years had made big strides in not only on the tech front but also in forging ties with automakers.

Waymo, Alphabet's new name for its long-running Google car project, came in seventh, while Tesla was twelfth and Uber was sixteenth. Apple was not included because it has never publicly acknowledged having an autonomous car research team.

Although Waymo's project started nearly eight years ago, Navigant's focus on both strategy and execution of self-driving tech assigned low scores for its production strategy and its sales and marketing plans. Waymo currently has a partnership with Fiat Chrysler for the production of 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which will help speed up Waymo's tech development cycle.

Uber meanwhile was docked points for not having a good production strategy or technology. The company currently is battling in-house culture issues as well as fending off a lawsuit from Waymo charging that its LiDAR tech is built off stolen Waymo data. Uber also scored low on staying power.