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 at Market Strategies-Morpace will share their insights in an occasional blog series titled “An Autonomous Future.” In this first blog, we hear from Dania Rich-Spencer, Vice President of Automotive at Market Strategies-Morpace, about how consumers are responding to these new autonomous enhancements.
When Chairman and CEO of General Motors Mary Barra wrote an article for the World Economic Forum in 2016, she stated “I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50.” Given vehicle companies’ quest to transition from a car maker to a valued mobility company offering services that many of us couldn’t even imagine a few years ago, Barra is spot on about the swift transformation of the auto industry.
While automotive manufacturers have historically described themselves as makers of vehicles for personal and commercial use, today’s OEMs refer to their brands as mobility companies. Yes, they still make cars, trucks, and SUVs – but a combination of new connectivity technology and consumers’ willingness to share products and services now enable auto manufacturers to redefine their relationship with customers – and to enhance the vehicle ownership experience.
A Glimpse into Industry Innovation by Today’s Leading OEMs
A variety of popular car makers are investing considerable time, money, technology, and talent to make vast transitions within the marketplace. For instance, the General Motors Marketplace app is considered the “automotive industry’s first commerce platform for on-demand reservations and purchases of goods and services.”
Ford positions FordPass as “the app that amplifies your ownership experience…all to help you get from A to B better.” Lincoln is redefining the traditional lease with a month-to-month subscription service to better meet customers’ needs and attract younger buyers. Cadillac, Volvo, and Porsche are also offering services to complement the traditional car buying/servicing transactional model.
One may argue that the greatest contribution to this transformation is the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). While timelines for fully-developed AVs vary by OEM, there is no doubt they are coming. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Today, self-driving vehicles are also part of the inevitable! In fact, Mcity Driverless Shuttle, “the first driverless shuttle project in the U.S. focusing on user behavior research” was launched beginning June 2018, on the University of Michigan’s North Campus.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a part of this automotive industry transformation and look forward to reminiscing with the grandkids about a world before the car was a powerful computing platform that drove itself. However, I often wonder: do other people see this industry transformation in the same light as I do? How does the “regular Joe” feel about the emergence of self-driving vehicles?
Based on my experience as both a vehicle consumer and professional at Market Strategies–Morpace, I know that familiarity drives acceptance of new technology. With that said, how familiar is the general population with AV technology – and how might they see themselves benefiting from these cars?
Insights into Consumer Awareness & Opinion of Autonomous Vehicles Today
To find out, these are some of the questions we explored in the Morpace Automotive Consumer Pulse Study, an online survey* conducted monthly among approximately 1,000 U.S. adults 18 years of age and older. We noted several surprising findings, including feedback about the level of awareness for self-driving vehicles:
- Over eight in ten consumers have heard at least some information about companies working on developing self-driving vehicles. This statistic has remained fairly consistent since October 2017, when the study was initially conducted. It is also consistent with other research.
- While the general public is aware of autonomous vehicles, there is a lot of uncertainty about the implications of self-driving vehicles. People are not sure if there will be more or fewer accidents and fatalities, whether there will be more or fewer vehicles on the road, or if personal ownership will increase or decline.
- When asked how the development of self-driving vehicles will benefit them personally, responses are almost equally distributed in thirds across “Positive/Negative/Not Sure.”
Since factors like media coverage and clear, enthusiastic, consumer-based marketing affect the current and future awareness of self-driving automobiles, the interplay between these two factors will shape the short-term pace and long-term outcome of the industry.
Demographic Differences in Consumer Awareness
One aspect is for sure, however – young adults, followed by those with disabilities and those who have lost their license, will be the first to use a self-driving vehicle. In addition, more males than females are engaged with this topic and are more likely to embrace using a self-driving vehicle. Other data shows:
- Twice as many males compared to females say that they have seen or heard “a lot” about cars and trucks that can operate on their own without a human driver.
- Almost half of males think self-driving vehicles are positive for them, compared to just under a third of females.
- Compared to females, almost twice as many males provide a Top2Box rating (9/10) to being open to using a self-driving vehicle.
This gender difference is not surprising to me, but I’m wondering if auto manufacturers are paying attention to the information. Is it too early to charm females to autonomous vehicles? Given that women influence a significant portion of the vehicle purchase decision, it may be prudent for OEMs to start the marketing process now by crafting a message targeted to women around the positive implications and personal benefits of using and owning an AV.
A Future with Self-Driving Cars
The industry and its consumers are also interested to know which auto maker may be the first to offer a fully autonomous vehicle for personal use. Toyota takes top spot, followed closely by Ford. Similar to their marketing of apps and subscription services, trusted vehicle makers like these must make the benefits of AVs clear to both male and female consumers, as well as those young and old. These include the benefits of Advanced Drive Assistance Systems (ADAS) features, as well as how their self-driving business models will make operating these vehicles both safe and beneficial to daily life.
While OEMs and their partners evolve their marketing strategies, I am optimistic about the future of transportation and the role the autonomous vehicle plays. Here’s to the next few years of unprecedented change – and the wonder it will bring!
*The data collected by the Morpace Automotive Consumer Pulse Study are weighted to ensure relevant demographic characteristics of the sample matched those of the U.S. general population. All respondents are weighted to U.S. Census Bureau demographic profiles for the U.S. population 18+ on gender, age, income and ethnicity.