J.D. Power: Consumers wary of self-driving cars but totally okay with semi-autonomous technology

April 19, 2017

Once upon a time, self-driving cars seemed like a dream--a pipe dream, maybe, but a dream nonetheless. People thought, "Oh, wouldn't that be nice to have a car to chauffeur you around town?" Then, they'd look wistfully at their Crystal Pepsi and go back to reading the latest issue of Spy magazine.  

Today, self-driving cars are a reality, and they've already begun taking over the world's roads. So perhaps it's only natural that, As J.D. Power's 2017 U.S. Tech Choice Study shows, some folks are having second thoughts about the technology.

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To gather data for that study, Power polled some 8,500 people who'd bought or leased a new vehicle within the past five years. Respondents were asked a range of questions to gauge their attitudes--not only toward fully self-driving vehicles, but also toward semi-autonomous features like automated braking and collision avoidance and toward vehicle ownership in general. Here are some of the notable bulletpoints:

Trust in self-driving tech is falling among the youngest and oldest consumers. Last year, 11 percent of Gen Z consumers (age 18 and under) and 40 percent of Pre-Boomers (age 71 and older) said that they "definitely would not trust" self-driving tech. This year, 22 percent of Gen Z respondents and 49 percent of Pre-Boomers said the same--increases of 11 percent and nine percent, respecitvely. In fact, 40 percent of Pre-Boomers said that they saw "no benefit to self-driving cars" at all.

Shoppers are willing to pay for semi-autonomous features, though. Respondents expressed interest in smart headlights, emergency braking and steering systems, lane change assist, and advanced windshield displays even before being told how much they cost. More of those polled said that they'd pay $700 for a braking and steering system than shell out less cash for less safety-focused features like entertainment offerings. 

Younger folks really want to lose their keys. Respondents under 18 want to access their cars via smartphones, smartwatches, and other gadgets, ditching conventional keys and fobs altogether. Some 40 percent of that group said that they want digital key tech on their next ride, and 58 percent were willing to shell out $250 for the software. Among respondents over 18, just 28 percent were willing to pay that much. 

Younger people are also more interested in car-sharing: An impressive 50 percent of respondents younger than 18 were interested in shared vehicles, meaning anything from a subscription service like Zipcar or Cadillac BOOK to co-ownership with friends and strangers. Also, 56 percent said that they would prefer using mobility-on-demand services like Lyft over traditional vehicle ownership.  

Does this spell doom for self-driving cars? Probably not. 

For starters, autonomous tech is too far along to put back in the box now. Like many technologies, early adopters will lead the way, but eventually others will follow, once they trust the software and understand the benefits. 

However, late adopters won't transition from conventional to self-driving cars overnight. They've already begun to experience it in pieces; they just don't see how those pieces fit together. Power's  Kristin Kolodge put its more eloquently:

"Automated driving is a new and complex concept for many consumers; they’ll have to experience it firsthand to fully understand it. As features like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and blind-spot warning systems become mainstream, car buyers will gain more confidence in taking their hands off the steering wheel and allowing their vehicles to step in to prevent human error." 

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