Where to discover self-driving secrets

on Apr23

Autonomous vehicle development has become highly competitive, and companies working on the technology tend to hold their plans close to the vest. But there’s one place where these secrets don’t last long: the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

California is one of the few states that regulate autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. And as the home to Silicon Valley, California is where the tech geeks with a little bit of motor oil in their veins try to merge the world of cars and technology.

Although California is not the only state to allow autonomous testing on public roads, it’s a hotbed of autonomous driving investment. Looking at the list of businesses that have decided to test vehicles there gives an idea of the variety of companies investing in the technology. Ten companies have received permits since Jan. 1, and only one of them is a traditional automaker.

One of California’s requirements is that companies that want to test self-driving vehicles in the state must apply to the California DMV for a permit and have their names published on the agency’s website. This requirement has sparked a number of headlines, from Uber’s initial refusal to apply for a permit, to Apple revealing its interest in self-driving technology via its application. Apple this month became the 30th company to get a permit to test drive autonomous vehicles in California.

To receive a permit, companies must submit details on the vehicles they plan to test, the drivers supervising them and the training program drivers must complete to operate the cars. Along with a $150 application fee, companies must also post a $5 million bond.

The DMV requires companies that receive a permit to report any accidents their vehicles are involved in, which are made available to the public. The agency also publishes annual reports from each company on how often drivers intervene while testing the cars in autonomous mode — called disengagement reports. Companies first reported these disengagements in 2016, and the first report included 11 companies.

The list of permit holders includes automakers, suppliers, Silicon Valley tech giants and smaller startups. Some, such as Ford Motor Co. and Tesla Inc., have been public about their self-driving strategies, while others, such as Apple and CarOne, have kept mum on their plans.

Automotive News reviewed records from the DMV on the issued permits, including what vehicles companies have been testing and for how long. The information is up to date as of Wednesday, April 19, and companies are listed in the order they received a permit.

Volkswagen Group of America

Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury arm, was one of the first companies to receive an autonomous vehicle testing permit, securing one on Sept. 11, 2014, that covers an Audi A7. However, it did not test any self-driving vehicles in California between Dec. 1, 2015, and Nov. 30, 2016, according to the automaker’s disengagement report to the DMV.

An Audi spokesman said it was demonstrating the test vehicle outside of California for most of 2016, which is why no testing was done in the state during that period.


Mercedes also received a permit on Sept. 11, 2014, and operates five Mercedes V-class vans and one S-class sedan. The automaker’s r&d team in Sunnyvale, Calif., has been testing the vehicles in urban areas, focusing primarily on mapping and interpreting sensor data. Mercedes also holds a testing permit in Nevada and tests its self-driving technology worldwide.


Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project that was spun off as its own company in December, operates the largest autonomous testing fleet in California, with 79 vehicles registered with the state. The company has held a permit since Sept. 12, 2014, allowing it to operate 50 of its “koala cars,” as the test vehicles that have become ubiquitous in the Mountain View, Calif., area are known. 

The permit also covers 24 Lexus RX 450h crossovers and five Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Waymo also operates test fleets in Texas, Washington and Arizona.

Delphi Automotive

Delphi received its permit on Oct. 10, 2014, and was testing two 2014 Audi SQ5 crossovers on highways in the Bay Area and surface roads in Palo Alto and Mountain View, according to its disengagement report. But the supplier has no vehicles currently registered in the state, according to DMV records, which the company said could be a result of moving vehicles around the U.S. 

Delphi said it has been testing self-driving vehicles in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Singapore.

Tesla Inc.

Tesla also secured its permit on Oct. 10, 2014, and has 13 Model S sedans and 11 Model X crossovers registered with the state. The EV maker primarily collects public road testing data from customer-owned vehicles equipped with self-driving hardware in “shadow mode,” rather than dedicated test vehicles. However, Tesla also performs self-driving technology tests on closed courses and outside California.

Robert Bosch

Bosch has held an autonomous vehicle testing permit since Oct. 27, 2014, which covers a BMW 325d and a Tesla Model S. The supplier wrote in its disengagement report to the DMV that it has been developing and testing vehicles in other states and countries. The company said the cars are not customer vehicles and are used to develop and demonstrate hardware and software for automated driving.


Nissan received its permit on Oct. 28, 2014, and has been testing a fleet of three electric Leafs and two Infiniti Q50 sedans. The automaker said in its disengagement report that it tested cars on highways and city streets in California. A Nissan spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the automaker’s autonomous vehicle testing program.

General Motors’ Cruise Automation has been testing its 31 Chevrolet Bolts on San Francisco streets, focusing on urban driving.

General Motors

General Motors’ Cruise Automation — a self-driving startup the automaker acquired in March 2016 — secured its permit on June 19, 2015, and operates 31 Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles. Cruise has been testing these cars on San Francisco streets, focusing primarily on urban driving.


BMW has held a testing permit in California since July 2015 and has been operating one test vehicle — a 535i — in the state. The automaker’s technology center in Mountain View houses the car and has been performing tests in the surrounding area.

Honda Motor Co.

Honda’s autonomous vehicle permit was issued on Sept. 4, 2015, covering one Acura RLX. While the automaker’s 2016 disengagement report showed no public road testing, it has been operating the vehicle at GoMentum Station, a federal proving ground for connected and autonomous cars, in Concord, Calif.

Ford Motor Co.

Ford received its testing permit on Feb. 3, 2015, and it covers two Ford Fusion sedans. The automaker has been testing the vehicles on the highways between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, according to its disengagement report to the DMV.


Though the autonomous vehicle startup has been operating in stealth mode, Zoox has held a testing permit since March 22, 2016. The company registered one Lexus RX 450h crossover and six Toyota Highlander hybrids. A Zoox spokesman declined to comment on the company’s testing program. It did not file a disengagement report for 2016.


Drive.ai, a startup focusing on artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles, received its permit on April 20, 2016. It covers one Audi A4 and three Lincoln MKZ sedans. In a YouTube video posted in February, Drive.ai showcased one of the Lincolns performing a self-driving test run on a rainy night in Mountain View.

Faraday Future

Though the EV startup has been developing its own car, the FF 91, Faraday Future has registered two Lincoln MKZ sedans in California, according to its permit issued on June 15, 2016. Faraday Future did not respond to a request for comment on its testing program in the state.


Baidu, a Chinese search engine giant, has held an autonomous vehicle testing permit since Aug. 29, 2016. The permit covers four Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedans. Baidu operates an r&d office in Sunnyvale, Calif., and plans to add a second center and 150 employees to the site.

Wheego Electric Cars

Wheego is an Atlanta startup developing electric, self-driving vehicles. The company’s permit, which it received on Oct. 5, 2016, covers one of its LiFe two-seat EVs. Wheego did not respond to a request for comment on the startup’s testing program in the state.

Valeo North America

Valeo acquired a permit to test autonomous vehicles on Oct. 7, 2016, and has one Volkswagen Passat registered with the state. The supplier did not respond to a request for comment on its testing program.


Formerly known as NextEV, NIO is a Chinese self-driving EV startup with North American operations in San Jose, Calif. Though the company received a testing vehicle on Oct. 11, 2016, it does not have any vehicles registered with the state, according to DMV records. NIO did not respond to a request for comment.


Telenav is a navigation system manufacturer in Santa Clara, Calif. The company was granted a testing permit on Oct. 21, 2016, covering one Lincoln MKZ sedan. When it received the permit, Telenav said it was working with automakers to develop advanced driver assistance systems as well as mapping and data intelligence for autonomous vehicles.


Nvidia received a testing permit on Dec. 8, 2016, covering two Lincoln MKZ sedans. The chipmaker said it is operating vehicles on public and private roads in the Bay Area in California and near its r&d center in New Jersey to test and validate its self-driving platform, which it supplies to automakers and tech companies developing autonomous vehicles.


AutoX is an autonomous vehicle startup developing a camera-based self-driving platform. The company secured its testing permit on Jan. 25 and has registered two Lincoln MKZ sedans with the state. The Palo Alto company showed off one of its autonomous test vehicles in a video released in March.


Subaru, which is preparing a semiautonomous driving system to introduce in 2020, was issued a testing permit on Feb. 9 covering one Subaru Outback, one Legacy and two Tribeca crossovers.


Udacity is an online education platform training autonomous vehicle engineers founded by former Google self-driving car project executive Sebastian Thrun. The company secured a permit on Feb. 22 and has one Lincoln MKZ sedan registered with the state.


Navya is a French startup developing an electric and autonomous shuttle bus. Its permit, issued on March 2, covers two of its Arma buses.

Renovo Auto

Formerly an electric supercar startup known as Renovo Motors, Renovo Auto is working on self-driving systems to be deployed in on-demand autonomous vehicle fleets. Though the company has been relatively quiet about its plans, it received a testing permit on March 6. The permit covered a Ford F-350 pickup, but the vehicle was removed from the permit last week.

Uber, the ride-hailing service, has 25 Volvo XC90 crossovers registered in California.


Uber’s testing program in California turned into a public argument with the DMV after it launched in December a self-driving ride-hailing pilot without a permit from the agency. After the DMV revoked Uber’s vehicle registrations, the company moved the program to Arizona. But Uber applied for a permit and was granted one in March. It now has 25 Volvo XC90 crossovers registered with the state.


PlusAI is an artificial intelligence startup building an autonomous vehicle. It received a permit to test autonomous vehicles on March 8 that covers one Lincoln MKZ sedan.

Nuro AI

Nuro AI is a self-driving technology startup founded by two former Google self-driving project executives, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. The company plans to launch an autonomous vehicle in the next two to four years, according to online tech blog Recode, and received a testing permit on March 29. The permit covers four Nissan Leafs.


CarOne is a startup in stealth mode. The company received an autonomous vehicle permit on March 29 covering one Polaris GEM electric two-seater. CarOne declined to give more details about the startup.


The latest company to receive a testing permit may have drawn the most attention. Apple received its permit on April 14, giving the signal that it is pursuing autonomous vehicle technology. The permit covers three Lexus RX 450h crossovers.

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