Another Study Shows Consumers Hesitant to Embrace Mobility

“Out of the box, these scores are not encouraging,” said Kristin Kolodge, Executive Director, Driver Interaction and Human Machine Interface Research at J.D. Power. “As automakers head down the developmental road to self-driving vehicles and greater electrification, it’s important to know if consumers are on the same road — and headed in the same direction. That doesn’t seem to be the case right now. Manufacturers need to learn where consumers are in terms of comprehending and accepting new mobility technologies — and what needs to be done.”

A change in rhetoric would be nice. We know automakers are eager to convert vehicles into mobility devices that mimic our phones and tap into our personal data, but that may not be an ideal scenario for the average consumer. We’d argue that there’s significant portion of car buyers that don’t want this technology at all, with a bunch more too uniformed to have a strong opinion. In fact, the study confirmed our suspicions — showing 66 percent of respondents admitting to having little to no knowledge about self-driving vehicles. 36 percent claimed to have no interest in them whatsoever, regardless of application. 11 percent, claimed to be “extremely likely” to purchase or lease one when the time came but most of those respondents also claimed to have a great deal of understanding of the technology.

Aware that knowledge is selling power, the industry has attempted to accelerate the promotion of self-driving technologies to “build understanding, trust and acceptance.” Unfortunately for automakers, the marketing used to hype these technologies is frequently loaded with unpalatable corporate speak and broken promises. It’s all kind of dreary and unsatisfying, often conjuring visions of a sterile and sedated world.

The survey also showed a cavalcade of safety concerns surrounding autonomous cars. Ironically, safety is the number one talking point automakers use when promoting the technology. But 71 percent of respondents expressed fears that the car’s systems would fail and place them in danger. Meanwhile, 57 percent were concerned with malicious hacking and 55 percent fretted over the questionable legal liability of self-driving collisions. Over a third of consumers also bemoaned having to give up control of their automobile, with nearly as many saying they didn’t think autonomous cars would be any fun.

The positive attributes presumed to accompany autonomous vehicles garnered lighter support overall. The most popular presumed advantage, allowing disabled persons the ability to drive (which is not a guarantee), was approved by 47 percent of the surveyed group. Improved safety, reduced stress, the ability to do other activities while in transit all averaged between 31 and 37 percent.

Another interesting metric was traffic congestion. 21 percent of respondents claimed self-driving vehicles would reduce congestion while 17 believed they would worsen it. That largely depends on how AVs are implemented but we already now that Uber/Lyft vehicles with no passengers have helped to clog up city streets. If executed irresponsibly, AVs could be just as bad. Then again, the constant monitoring of their whereabouts could eventually streamline commutes if the infrastructure was setup to cater to them. But that’s highly speculative and assumes everything goes perfectly.

The electric vehicle index was a bit brighter. 61 percent of surveyed individuals believe that EVs were better for the environment but only 39 percent said they’d actually seriously consider buying/leasing one as their next car. The biggest negative was the charging infrastructure (64 percent) with range anxiety (59 percent) being a close second. Price was also a concern, with the vast majority (78 percent) suggesting that tax credits would absolutely factor into their purchasing decisions.

None of this bodes well for the industry. Automakers are really breaking the bank to swap over to electrification and, while the reasons are understandable (environmental regulation, the drive to be cutting edge, capturing a new market, etc) the audience needs to grow for it to become profitable. As for autonomous vehicles, consumers are in for a rude awakening. Perhaps misled by the media or the industry itself, most are of the mind that they’ll be available for purchase in under 10 years. Those in the know are aware that the reality will likely be much further out with delivery and taxi services arriving first. However, that’s not likely to matter much if the majority of consumers are still too terrified to actually ride in them.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

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