Study: People don't trust self-driving cars from Uber or Lyft

May 25, 2017

Last September, we reported on a study showing that consumers would be interested in vehicles made by tech firms like Apple and Google. The gist was that decades-old car companies like Ford, General Motors, and Toyota could soon face stiff competition from auto industry newbies.

Now, there's another study to discuss, and if its findings are accurate, legacy manufacturers could sleep slightly easier. It shows that, while shoppers may be excited about cars from Google and Apple, they have doubts about self-driving vehicles made by ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Methods and findings

The study in question was the Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Consumer Survey, and it was conducted by INRIX, one of the world's largest transportation research firms. The company polled 5,054 drivers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, and Italy to gauge their feelings about connected and self-driving cars. Here are some of the study's biggest takeaways:

Safety

When Americans were asked whether autonomous vehicles would be as safe or safer than conventional cars, a whopping 71 percent said yes. The notable exception? Baby Boomers, 73 percent of whom said no, self-driving cars won't be any safer. 

In Europe, the responses were similar. In fact, in Italy, some 85 percent of respondents said that autonomous vehicles will be at least as safe as today's cars, if not safer. The U.K. was something of an outlier, with nearly 40 percent of respondents there saying that self-driving cars will be less safe. 

Manufacturers

When asked which sorts of companies they trust most to build autonomous vehicles, 27 percent of Americans said they preferred tech giants like Apple and Google. Traditional automakers trailed slightly at 23 percent. Just four percent of respondents put their faith in ridesharing firms like Uber.

Europeans had a different response: on average, nearly three times as many said they'd trust traditional automakers over tech firms when it came to self-driving cars. The one thing that was consistent, though, was a general lack of trust in ride-sharing companies, which hovered around four percent. 

Privacy

That same U.S./European split was reflected in respondents feelings about privacy concerns. In the U.S., consumers were 1.4 times more likely to trust tech giants with their data than legacy automakers. Europeans, on the other hand, tended to trust car companies with their data--though it's worth noting that 34 percent said that they didn't trust anyone on that front.

More important than nationality, however, was age: younger consumers (i.e. Gen Xers and Millennials) in all countries were more likely to put their faith in tech firms. Those of Boomer age and older preferred to trust car companies.

Autonomous features

When it came to autonomous features (as opposed to fully autonomous vehicles), respondents were generally more excited. On both sides of the Atlantic, 80 percent or more of those polled were either interested in or already using technology like rear and front collision alerts, blind-spot warnings, automatic braking, blind-spot warnings, and road condition alerts. 

More than 70 percent of respondents said that they'd be interested in paying for or having as standard equipment a wide range of features dedicated to safety (e.g. automatic braking), driver assistance (e.g. concierge services), navigation, vehicle management, and driver well-being (e.g drowsiness alerts). Fewer said that they'd be willing to shell out for infotainment services (e.g. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto)

Availability and intent to purchase

Out of everyone surveyed, 62 percent said that autonomous vehicles would be on sale within ten years. Respondents were most optimistic in Italy and the U.S., where 78 percent and 71 percent said that the cars would be widely available within a decade.

Interest in actually purchasing an autonomous car wasn't quite as high. Just 25 percent of respondents said that they would likely or would definitely buy one. The figure was higher among men and among those 50 years old and younger.  

Our take

Today's automakers still have a slight advantage in the area of self-driving cars--if for no other reason than they've got established means of designing, building, distributing, and selling them. This was the rationale behind the recent study putting Ford and General Motors at the front of the autonomous-car pack. 

If you ignore those kinds of advantages--and there are reasons why you might--then the playing field becomes much more level. For example, if you only consider self-driving technology, Waymo is far, far ahead of its competitors. 

The window of opportunity is closing, and if car companies don't position themselves for success now, they're going to be struggling to catch up. As tech guru and investor Marc Andreessen recently explained:

"[Legacy automakers] would all say that they are best at making cars, and that the software is a component that goes in the cars. Our thesis is, no, what's actually going to happen is the value will flow to the software layer. The entire experience of being in the car will be defined by software."

In other words, today's car companies need to change their notions of what a car is, before they become "the Nokia of cars" (another apt, chilling turn of phrase from Andreessen).

And for what it's worth: just because consumers don't trust ride-sharing companies to build self-driving cars doesn't mean that those companies are out of the running. Opinions can change--including opinions about car ownership. Keep in mind that a different study recently showed that fleets of self-driving vehicles owned by Uber, Lyft, and others could slash car ownership by 80 percent in the not-too-distant future.

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