The push to bring more and improved autonomous vehicle technology to the market continues unabated with the long-term promise of an entirely hands-free experience.
These technologies are better and more pervasive than ever, yet a new study shows the general public isn’t any more excited by the idea this year than last — in fact, even less so. The newly released J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Mobility Confidence Index Study, or MCI, said consumers simply aren’t ready — or able — to wrap they’re minds around a largely hands-free future.
Perhaps equally important: automakers and the companies producing this advanced technology aren’t doing a great job educating the public about what they do and what they’re called, the study noted.
The public’s knowledge of automated vehicles hasn’t improved moving from 2021 into 2022, Power officials noted, as 65% of consumers inaccurately define fully automated, self-driving vehicles. Additionally, 56% of respondents wrongly classified the driver-assist technologies available today as fully automated, self-driving technologies.
Confusion still reigns
The study, which was conducted by J.D. Power, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) and the MIT Advanced Vehicle Technology (AVT) Consortium, reveals consumers tend to meld the names for different technologies together, specifically assisted driving, driver assistance and semi-autonomous.
Although some of the jargon-like language, such as SAE Level 2 and SAE Level 3, may be helpful to people within the industry, everyday consumers don’t have any connection — or understanding — of the meaning behind it.
“Our message has remained consistent,” said Lisa Boor, senior manager of auto benchmarking and mobility development at J.D. Power. “Industry stakeholders must work together to ensure clear and consistent messaging, and the use of consumer-facing terminology is part of this. Understanding which words and phrases resonate with consumers can help manage misconceptions and improve consumer understanding of AVs, which is a common goal.”
This confusion and conflation causes problems from the jump as just 37% of consumers seek information on fully automated, self-driving vehicles.
Most who are curious go to the internet to get information with 54% conducting online searches, 45% using online videos and vehicle manufacturer/developer websites being next at 39 percent. The same online preferences are cited among consumers who have yet to seek AV information. However, unique to this group is the preference for industry/academic experts (33%) over family/friends (24%), traditional media (14%) and social media (14%).
The long and short is that there is plenty of hand-holding left to do when it comes to informing the general consumer about the technologies automakers believe they want, including:
- Low consumer readiness for fully automated, self-driving vehicles: The index score for consumer AV readiness is 39 (on a 100-point scale), a 3-point decline from 2021.
- Consumers receptive to AV training: More than half (55%) of consumers are willing to complete training to operate an AV, and for those who say they know “a great deal” about AVs, the percentage increases to 87 percent.
- Opportunity for more effective learning methods: Consumers say the information sources used to learn about advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) features on their current vehicle are the owner’s manual (32%); online search (27%); and dealer explanation (26%) — and none of them are effective.
- Current ADAS usage drives future intent: Just more than one-fourth (26%) of consumers say they use active driving assistance, and 71% who frequently use the feature desire it on their next vehicle.
- Consumer comfort with automation may be overstated: Surprisingly, the percentage of respondents who indicate that driver assist technology is the maximum level of automation with which they are comfortable remains unchanged at 41%.
Importantly, even people comfortable with the highest levels of automation aren’t entirely sold on it.
“I am not ready to trust my life to a fully automated vehicle. Need time to trust the system’s capabilities,” said one participant in the study.
More than three-fourths (76%) say they want more information on how the vehicle technology meets government standards to feel comfortable with automated vehicles.
“These results provide further evidence that many consumers lack a clear understanding of the current status of automated and assisted driving technologies,” said Bryan Reimer, Ph.D., research scientist in the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics AgeLab and a founder of MIT’s AVT consortium. “Highly automated driving technology is still very much in an evolving and testing stage; there are issues and limitations being encountered — and corrected.
“The sooner consumers recognize that they can leverage a range of ADAS features today to support their role as a driver, while still having overall responsibility, the faster we may begin to prepare for a future in which we prioritize safe, convenient and sustainable mobility choices that include highly automated vehicles.”