Autonomous Driving Attracts Small Interest; Semi-Autonomous Features Prevail


Mike VanNieuwkuyk

The concept of a self-driving system in a car, or what is termed autonomous driving mode, is no longer considered “outside the box” for vehicle owners. In fact, Google’s pilot self-driving vehicles are legal in Mountain View, CA, near Google headquarters. In addition to California, self-driving cars are also now legal in two other states: Nevada and Florida.

We see that awareness of this new technology is higher than a year ago. In spite of a $3,000 suggested market price, we see that “probable” and “definite” interest in equipping an owner’s next vehicle with this new technology is slightly higher, according to the results from our 2013 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, than it was last year—21% vs. 20% in 2012.

Both “probable” and “definite” interest in having this emerging technology in an owner’s next vehicle rises to 39% before a market price is introduced.

Interest in some of the other “advanced” emerging technologies takes a back seat to autonomous driving mode when market pricing is introduced. For instance, the percentage of vehicle owners interested in having biometrics (including finger print car locks and stress level monitors for heart rate or blood pressure) in their next vehicle falls from 52% before a price is presented to just 20% after a market price of $350 is shown. Additionally, interest in customizable home screen technology that provides consumers options on information to be displayed on the vehicle’s center stack screen plummets from 72% to just 17% when a $1,250 market price is provided.

Some Semi-Autonomous Safety Features Receive Higher Acceptance

Admittedly, our research does find that many semi-autonomous driving features—especially those that are safety focused—may be paving the way for acceptance of autonomous driving mode systems. Semi-autonomous technologies such as low-speed collision avoidance system ($250), emergency braking and steering system ($800) and automatic park assist system ($400) receive relatively strong interest from today’s new-vehicle buyers at 55%, 40% and 32%, respectively. Younger consumers and those owning premium vehicles show the most interest in each of these features.

self-drive car-audi2 photoIn spite of the high interest in these systems, not everybody is jumping onboard the self-driving bandwagon, according to our research and analysis of results from our latest Automotive Emerging Technologies Study. Last year, “autonomous driving mode” was considered an especially “cool” technology with headlines and news coverage of Google’s research on a self-driving car. It was touted as a technology to help physically disabled people be more mobile and a technology to possibly make driving safer in certain environments and situations.

However, even with the relatively strong interest in semi-autonomous features and slightly higher interest in full autonomous driving, there is still work to be done to gain consumer trust and confidence in these driver-assist technologies. Social media research conducted by J.D. Power’s Consumer Insights and Strategy Group shows that interest in semi-autonomous features primarily originates from consumers wanting to have the latest technology, and the safety benefit is viewed as an added bonus. Consumers ultimately want the experience and responsibility of driving their own vehicle, and they do not want to rely on technology to do it for them. At this point, most feel that the features provide a “safety net” but do not put full trust in their operation.

Additionally, the usefulness of automatic park assist to consumers is limited to those who lack confidence when it comes to parallel parking. Consumers who are more confident with parking tend to consider this feature unnecessary, and even inefficient. Given this rise in skepticism, especially in regard to drivers’ concern about giving up control of their vehicles, we think the autonomous driving mode technology will develop fairly slowly, while semi-autonomous emerging technologies will continue to create comfort and safety—and raise confidence—for vehicle owners.Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates

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