After evaluation of vision, technology, product capability and reliability, marketing and distribution, and strategy, Ford came to the first place in terms of automated driving development, and General Motors (GM) came out second.
The ranking conducted by Colorado-based Navigant Research has covered 18 companies, traditional automakers as well as suppliers and tech companies including Google Waymo.
Ford, GM, Renault-Nissan and Daimler are the only companies that earn the Leader label for development of self-driving cars, and they are followed by Volkswagen, BMW, Waymo, Toyota, Hyundai and Tesla.
"The top eight companies are projected to lead the race in putting the first Level 4 automated driving systems into production," the Detroit News quoted Navigant as saying on Wednesday.
Ford has developed technologies for its automated F-250 pickup and has acquired and invested in a number of companies including Civil Maps, SAIPS, Velodyne and Chariot.
The Dearborn-based automaker's investment of 700 million dollars in the Flat Rock plant is seen as a steppingstone to level-four vehicle production.
Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Vice President Ken Washington has predicted that a fully autonomous vehicle as a ride-service option will be on public roads by 2021.
"We are working very aggressively to make this a reality by 2021," he said when addressing the annual SAE International World Congress on Tuesday.
According to SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) classification, a true level-four vehicle takes the driver fully out of the piloting process. A level zero vehicle is completely controlled by human drivers.
The autonomous vehicles that are being road tested at present are at levels one or two, which still needs human manipulation from time to time.