There's a reason why Ford (F) - Get Report stock has underperformed its peers like General Motors (GM) - Get Report and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) - Get Report so far this year. Ford shares are down almost 24%, nearly double the 12.4% decline GM has suffered and far more than the 10% decline Fiat has experienced.

In fact, that underperformance isn't limited to just 2018, as Ford has underperformed these two stocks considerably over the last one-, three- and five-year periods. For perspective, Ford stock is down 44% over the past five years compared to GM's 6.3% gain and the 170% return for Fiat.

On the autonomous driving front, we see General Motors making a killing on its investment in Cruise. The company that GM bought for a reported $1 billion in August 2016 is now being valued at more than $14.5 billion following investments from Honda Motor (HMC) - Get Report and SoftBank (SFTBY) . It is considered the No. 2 in the budding mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) movement, trailing just behind Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report(GOOGL) - Get Report Waymo.

In fact, analysts at RBC valued this segment as a more than $40 billion opportunity for GM over the next decade. For Waymo, the valuation cases are significantly higher. While we could turn this into a debate on future valuations for Waymo, Cruise and others, the notable absence from the group is Ford.

Fiat doesn't seem set on building out its autonomous driving plans, as it seems content to work with Waymo. Many speculate that Fiat will simply opt to license the technology rather than invest the billions that will be required to get its own self-driving system up and running safely. Part of that massive investment is one reason we've seen talks between Ford and Volkswagen (VLKAY) brewing over the last six months, with notable attention over the past few weeks.

However, we still don't know what synergies the two companies are discussing or whether they involve Ford's future mobility and autonomous driving plans.

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Ford CEO Jim Hackett

Ford's Future

Ford's stock is now comfortably trading between $9.25 and $9.50, likely thanks to the company's most recent earnings report. The better-than-expected quarterly results combined with some reassurance over its lofty 6.3% dividend.

Still, investors are going to need some clarity when it comes to Ford's future.

In 2017, Ford took a majority ownership stake in Argo AI in an effort to develop a driverless car system. However, Argo's valuation has not appreciated in the way that Cruise has. Nor have Ford's autonomous driving efforts improved like that of Waymo or Cruise. Further, GM's Super Cruise self-driving features top that of Ford's current capabilities, as does Tesla's (TSLA) - Get Report Autopilot.

And now Ford is buying the electric scooter-sharing company Spin for a reported $100 million to help provide last-mile solutions. It's not that Ford can't afford $100 million or that Spin is a poorly managed company. But from an investor's perspective, they want to see some concrete developments to how Ford will compete with GM, Waymo and others. How will it stay relevant in a transportation industry that's set to change dramatically over the next five to ten years?

We don't have those answers and CEO Jim Hackett needs to improve his articulation of these plans. We've seen what Ford wants to do with autonomous driving and smart city solutions, but we haven't seen how it's going to do it. Management needs to find a way to relay those plans to investors to assure them they aren't going to fall too far behind in this race. 

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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.