For automobile manufacturers, a bold new future has arrived. Technology that adds autonomous features to the driving experience are now available on vehicles by all major manufacturers – inching us ever closer to the day where the driver is a passive, rather than active, participant in the driving experience. To take a closer look at what’s to come, automotive research experts from Market Strategies-Morpace will share their insights in an occasional blog series titled “An Autonomous Future.” In this blog, Chris Leiman, Senior Vice President of Automotive at Market Strategies-Morpace, talks about how consumers are influencing the adoption of these autonomous features.
When most consumers envision an autonomous vehicle (AV), they think of Tesla Autopilot or a Waymo self-driving car powered by Google. They often do not realize that their brand-new car, truck, or SUV already includes added safety features that already make the automobile more autonomous in nature.
Take the Toyota Highlander, for example. This popular sport utility vehicle is equipped with helpful lane departure warnings, along with a feature that pulls drivers back into their current lane with the power of radar. As soon as the driver begins to traverse against lines on the road, the vehicle ensures he or she tracks back safely.
While these features serve as a subtle introduction to the benefits of AV technology, it’s hard for consumers to escape news of incidents involving self-driving vehicles. From grisly reports of accidents with General Motors’ AVs last fall, to the frightening media headlines warning of robotic systems that decide who dies in a crash, AV developers must constantly walk a thin tightrope.
While pushing the technology forward will allow more people and businesses to benefit from it, factors like societal fears and negative media coverage will also continue to shape the outcome and pace of the industry.
As an automotive researcher at Market Strategies–Morpace, my role is centered on the continuous quest to understand consumers and the decisions they make. It’s one of the primary reasons why I have the opportunity to attend the Autonomous Vehicle Conference, an informative and annual event including speakers from all parts of the AV ecosystem.
Through my work at the company and my insights from this conference, I’ve learned much about the potential impact – and role – the consumer will play in the future of self-driving cars. Here are a few of the main and immediate factors influencing the automotive vehicle industry:
Top Consumer Factors Influencing Autonomous Vehicle Development
Media Coverage of the AV Market
Autonomous vehicle technology bears a variety of safety and mobility benefits, including quick transport and automatic driver assistance features. However, consumer acceptance is still a significant barrier to overcome. This is primarily influenced by the media, which focuses on AV accidents and death without detailing the daily triumphs in the industry.
News programming giants have a saying: “If it bleeds, it leads.” While reporting on a pedestrian being killed by a self-driving car, they leave out comparative data, such as the fact that more than 6,000 walkers and bikers were killed by human drivers in 2017. As fatalities rise, autonomous safety features could help reduce these rates.
This is a primary example of how the AV industry must do a better job managing its own narrative. A combined effort by all members of the AV ecosystem will likely be required to change the tone and provide perspective.
Driver/Rider Exposure to ADAS Features
In addition to better management of news coverage, exposure to Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) features is a critical stepping stone to further consumer acceptance. These include characteristics that are already commonplace in many newer vehicle models, including adaptive cruise control (ACC), adaptive light control, automatic parking, and blind spot monitors. The proliferation of these features, combined with proper messaging and education, will go a long way in developing consumer trust.
One strategy is to gradually expose passengers to the features. Consider the example given by a Lyft representative who spoke at the Autonomous Vehicle Conference. She explained how a self-driving BMW transporting 2018 Consumer Electronics Show attendees included a Lyft employee and a safety driver. Since these two human beings were also in the car, people felt safer. However, the vehicle still completely drove itself.
This speaks to a gradual adoption approach. Once consumers get more exposure to the technology, it will reduce and, presumably, eliminate their anxiety. By safely riding with Lyft employees through multiple rides, for example, the technology will become as familiar as riding in a taxi or regular ride sharing vehicle.
Early technology adopters such as Tesla Autopilot drivers, as well as those eager to try out self-driving cars, will help the industry to convince skeptics over time. Eventually, experts say, benefits like time and convenience will continue to develop within the technology, making them more apparent to the average consumer.
Consumer-Centered Business Models
We are already witnessing the emergence of various business models in the auto industry. How drivers and riders accept these models will also affect the future development and dispersal of the technology. While companies like Tesla continue to push the self-owned AV, enterprises like Uber and Lyft currently operate with the help of freelance drivers, who are responsible for their own cars.
To become and remain profitable, they will need to develop a viable autonomous vehicle strategy, which could affect their freelance driving program. In addition, the new technology may or may not be acceptable to the consumer. It is possible that the widespread adoption of these brands in their current form will help pave the way for consumers’ autonomous mobility options in the future.
In addition to the ride sharing model, fleets are another option. From ambulances and school buses to programs comparable to Lyft and Uber, maintaining a group of company-owned cars would save money while providing consumers with a seamless experience.
Finally, startups and blue-chip businesses alike will need to focus on the quality of customer experience. From vehicle choices to entertainment options, the enjoyment of the autonomous ride will become nearly as important to the future of the industry as safety benefits.
Ushering Consumers into the AV Revolution
I’m proud to work for a company like Market Strategies-Morpace that helps AV enterprises use research to support their value proposition. In short, we’ve found that acclimating consumers to self-driving technology while changing the prevailing mindset around AV depends on the in-vehicle experience, how often and how safely they use those cars, and their willingness to pay for the features and services, whether it is their own car or via a pay-per-ride service. Marketing will play a key role for all brands. AV organizations will need to clearly communicate safety benefits and value to their customers to charge for services in the end.
In considering the consumer’s impact on acceptability, I’m reminded of a recent Car and Driver article by illustrious author Malcolm Gladwell. In the piece, he writes about the phenomenon of consumer control. In our society, our ability to choose our vehicle and drive it where we want is a part of the American fabric.
Whether it’s a man who won’t part with his 1968 Corvette or a young mother who doesn’t trust her children to an autonomous vehicle, giving up control of the driving experience will take some time. By staying diligent with market research, gaining better control of the media narrative, and clearly explaining the lifestyle and safety benefits of self-driving cars, the consumer will become more comfortable with – and enthusiastic about – what AVs can do for their lives.