As automakers get closer to putting the first autonomous vehicles on the road they’re finding growing interest in the new technology, a new study of potential buyers in the U.S. and nine other major markets revealing that 60% of consumers would be willing to travel in a fully self-driving car.
Consumers expect some significant benefits from the new technology, including easier parking and the ability to multitask, according to the report being released today by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group.
But while many proponents of autonomous technology expect the biggest payoff to come in the form of improved safety – some predicting a world where highway fatalities become a rare, rather than routine, occurrence – a majority of those surveyed admit being worried about the safety of driverless vehicles.
Autonomous technology is rapidly moving from science fiction to everyday reality. Tesla Motors has begun wireless updating those Model S sedans already on the road to activate its semi-autonomous AutoPilot system, allowing hands-free driving on well-marked, limited-access highways. Nissan Motor Co. plans to have a fully autonomous vehicle, capable of operating on all roads, in production in 2020.
The study focused on the reaction of 5,600 urban residents in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the United States. Among those 10 different countries, the acceptance of autonomous technology was highest in India, where 85% said they’d ride in a self-driving vehicle. Close behind were China, at 75%, and the United Arab Emirates, at 70%.
At the other extreme, only 36% of Japanese urban residents responded favorably, followed by 41% in the Netherlands. The figure was a slim majority in the U.S., at 52%, with only 49% of UK residents willing to give it a try.
About 44% of the respondents cited parking assistance as a primary benefit, while 40% said they liked the idea of increasing productivity and getting the opportunity to multitask.
Autonomous vehicles have generated plenty of interest from safety advocates, such as Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Earlier this year, he told TheDetroitBureau.com that such technology could eliminate virtually all U.S. highway deaths, a position echoed by automakers and other regulators alike.
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But potential buyers are yet to be fully convinced, according to the new study. It found 51% of those surveyed voicing concerns about their safety, with 45% calling the lack of control “a major barrier.” Concerns centered around the inability to take control, as well as “a perceived risk of cyber attacks.”
While 60% of adults said they’d be willing to go along for the ride, only 35% of parents said they’d be willing to let their children ride alone in an autonomous vehicle, or AV.
At a day-long conference marking the opening of the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, officials from the city’s taxi commission suggested self-driving cabs could play a major role in getting motorists out of their own vehicles, especially for short trips. But the World Economic Forum/BCG study found 37% of the respondents would be unlikely to ride in a self-driving hack – “about the same percentage as those who would consider sharing one,” the study summary noted.
The most willing consumers –about two in three ready to use an autonomous cab – live in densely populated countries like China and India. Only 15% of Dutch respondents would call a self-driving cab. In the U.S., the figure was 27%.
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That hesitation, incidentally, drops when customers are offered a steep discount.
Survey respondents recognized the likelihood that all the hardware and software needed for an autonomous vehicle won’t come cheap. More than four in 10 said they’d pay a premium, the majority of those consumers willing to cough up an extra $5,000.
Who will take the lead in bringing autonomous vehicles to market is an unanswered question. While traditional players, such as Nissan and General Motors, are active proponents, so are some new players – notably Google, which many consider to have the most advanced prototype technology. But nearly half of those surveyed want to see traditional automakers take the lead.
That varied widely by country, however. Respondents in France, Germany and Japan were the most likely to support traditional automakers. Only 32% of those surveyed in the U.S. saw traditional automakers as the best choice to produce an autonomous vehicle; 21% preferring a tech company, and 19% saying it should be a “new car manufacturer.
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“This survey is reassuring news for traditional automotive companies,” said Nikolaus Lang, a senior partner at BCG who worked on the research. “Our results indicate that consumers primarily expect OEMs to play a leading role in the rollout of self-driving vehicles, with technology players such as Apple and Google contributing their relevant expertise.”