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Opinion: Consumer Acceptance of Self-Driving Cars Still Struggles

Opinion CarsOnLot Pixabay400x275

April 14, 2022

By Keith Shaw, Managing Editor

Global consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners released results from its Automotive consumer Survey 2022, which showcased U.S. consumer attitudes around new mobility choices, technologies and their preferred buying experience. While much of the survey covered areas such as how much people dislike going to the car dealership or negotiating on price, the survey did tackle some questions around people’s attitudes towards autonomous vehicles.

Hoo boy, this is going to get interesting.

The survey showed that 45% of respondents indicated excitement about autonomous driving technology, while 32% admitted fear of autonomous technology. Reasons given for their concerns included system malfunctions, failure to react to human behavior, and the possibility of the car being hacked or externally controlled.

In addition, 66% said they expect autonomous cars will be a luxury and too expensive; 50% said they will be standard on the streets; and 45% expect them to be less dangerous since software replaces human drivers.

I think these reasons are a huge part as to why developers of autonomous mobile systems and cars are focusing on non-consumer areas at the moment. We’re seeing traction in the space with long-haul trucking companies for a few reasons: 1) a large shortage of truck drivers and continuing supply chain shortages indicate a need for an autonomous solution; and 2) consumers likely won’t notice if the truck next to them is autonomous or not, since most of this will take place on long-haul routes with long stretches of mostly straight highway. 

The other areas where autonomous vehicles are making inroads are in closed-loop environments where there are less distractions, such as in a retirement community, or a shuttle bus route in a parking lot. It’s in these scenarios where most of us will likely experience our first ride in an autonomous vehicle, and we might not even notice this because there will probably still be a safety driver. Obviously, if you live in Arizona or Las Vegas or other areas where ride-sharing services are offering autonomous rides, then you might have a chance to experience this before most of the rest of us. But for the large majority of the people, AVs remain a science-fiction future, and people’s attitudes will remain locked in.

Whenever I talk about self-driving cars with my friends and family who are outside the robotics space, they shake their heads at me as if I told them that they were just elected president. Interestingly, I don’t get the same responses as those from these consumer studies – instead of safety they just tell me, “I really like driving my car and don’t want to give that up.” Even when I point out how bad other drivers are (I live in Massachusetts, after all), and how people could get their work done or relax during a long commute, they still shake their head at me.

So it’s going to continue to be an uphill battle for any self-driving automotive company attempting to convince customers to step inside a robot car for the first, second or third time, let alone trying to convince them to purchase one for themselves. Expect to see loads of messaging around safety, trust, reliability and even some fear tactics (“Humans are more likely to kill a pedestrian than our robot car”) to try and convince people to make the switch.

If you want to see the entire automotive survey from Simon-Kucher & Partners, which also covers attitudes around electric vehicles, in-car advertisements and other “innovations”, click this link.

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