When looking at the autonomous driving space, here's how to identify the current leaders.
There are component makers that allow autonomous driving to become a reality, like Nvidia (NVDA) - Get NVIDIA Corporation Report and Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report . There are mobility as a service (MaaS) platforms like Alphabet's (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report Waymo and General Motors' (GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report Cruise. Then there are the cars intended for consumer purchase.
Shall the crown be passed?
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General Motors Is an Autonomous Driving Stud, Too
According to a recent study by Consumer Reports, they found that GM's Super Cruise program performed better than Tesla's Autopilot.
The formal study from Consumer Reports come as "we are at a tipping point where they are now going mainstream," according to Jake Fisher, director of auto testing. Aside from Tesla and GM, the study also interestingly included Nissan's ProPilot Assist and Volvo's Pilot Assist, which came in third and fourth place, respectively.
The finding for all four systems concluded that, while helpful and beneficial in some situations, none of the platforms are capable of full self-driving capability. For anyone following the industry, though, that's not a surprise. It's also similar to a study performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earlier this year. While the IIHS did not test GM's Super Cruise, it concluded that "none" of the vehicles they tested -- including Daimler's (DDAIF) Mercedes, Tesla's Model S and 3, a BMW (BMWYY) 5-Series and a Volvo S90 -- could drive on their own. However, the Tesla had the most accurate results.
Consumer Reports notes that Tesla's Autopilot was very easy to use and had plenty of capability, but said that GM's Super Cruise did "the best job of balancing high-tech capabilities with ensuring the car is operated safely and the driver is paying attention."
That's no surprise, given CEO Mary Barra's focus on safety since taking over at the automaker's helm amid the intense ignition switch controversy.
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However, there's an important distinction to consider here: Autopilot and Super Cruise may be similar while operating under the same controlled, test environments, but there are some key differences.
First, Super Cruise operates in geofenced areas. Meaning that, GM has to map these highways and major roads before Super Cruise is capable of driving on them. While that may not be an issue for drivers in popular cities, those looking to buy a car equipped with Super Cruise and have it drive them to their local grocery store may be disappointed.
That brings up another point. Tesla's Autopilot is available on all three of its vehicles, the Model S, X and 3. Conversely, GM's Super Cruise is only available on the Cadillac CT6. However, GM plans to expand Super Cruise to other vehicles in its Cadillac lineup in 2020, as well as expand the technology across its other brands.
So while GM may have limits on which cars are equipped with the technology right now and where that technology is available, it's impressive when operational. The downside to geofencing is obvious in that it can't be used in all scenarios, only where GM has already mapped. The good news? It makes the situation safer, while GM is constantly mapping and adding those updates to its vehicles.
That is a key selling point to Tesla, too, as the vehicle is capable of receiving over-the-air updates to its new driving software. As Autopilot Version 9 is just starting to rollout to early access customers, it's unlikely it was a part of the Consumer Reports study.
That's too bad, as it's expected to significantly increase Autopilot's capabilities. Unlike Super Cruise, Autopilot observes and reacts to its driving situation in real time. In other words, it doesn't need to be in a geofenced area to function. While the benefits of that are obvious, the downside is that its functionality is less reliable.
So what's the takeaway? As Autopilot gets upgraded to Version 9, perhaps it will take the crown back. But one thing that's for sure is that GM, Tesla and others will continue duking it out for the top spot.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.