Are consumers ready for autonomous driving?

The challenge of selling self-driving technology

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Autonomous technology is advancing at a rapid pace with one in four new cars sold globally expected to feature at least partial automation by 2030, according to Frost & Sullivan. However, while the technology may be progressing, consumer trust in autonomous driving is a major challenge for vehicle manufacturers and dealers when it comes to selling vehicles equipped with this technology, in a climate where the majority of motorists remain unconvinced.

Findings in the ‘Britain Under the Bonnet’ report by Close Brothers Motor Finance show that just six per cent of drivers surveyed said they would actually consider buying a self-driving car. Whilst the current intention to purchase remains low, the report also found that the proportion of UK motorists who said they liked the idea of self-driving cars had actually increased three-fold in 12 months, with 31 per cent saying they were in favour of self-driving vehicles.

It is important that dealers are familiar with the levels of technology that are available in order to present effectively in the showroom.

Unsurprisingly, the research found that younger drivers were the most receptive to driverless cars, providing a strong indication to manufacturers and dealers as to where the future market lies. One in seven drivers under 25 said they wanted to purchase a self-driving car as their next vehicle, compared with just two per cent of drivers aged 55 and over. Geographic location was also found to have an influence on the desire for driverless technology, with Londoners the most likely to be in favour (38%), whilst drivers in Wales were the least favourable (24%). Highlighting a potential opportunity for dealers within the M25, Close Brothers also found that one in ten car buyers in London wanted to buy an autonomous car as their next mode of transport.

The influence of demographics in term of attitudes to self-driving technology is also confirmed by research carried out by Audi and Ipsos, where 21,000 people across nine countries on three continents were interviewed. The study found that young, high-earning and well educated ‘status-orientated trendsetters’ and ‘tech-savvy passengers’ most look forward to autonomous driving. Amongst ‘suspicious drivers’, who tended to be older with a lower level of income and education, scepticism was found to be dominant. While drivers in China and South Korea were found to be euphoric at the prospect of self-driving technology, motorists in France, Germany and the UK were found to be much more reserved.

Audi and Ipsos also identified two specific customer types for self-driving cars: ‘Safety-orientated reluctants’ who would use autonomous driving only when others have gained experience with the technology and ‘open-minded co-pilots’, who are fundamentally open to autonomous driving providing they can take manual control at any time.

With over 18 million new automated vehicles expected to be added to the global vehicle parc in the next decade, it is important that dealers are familiar with the levels of technology that are available in order to present effectively in the showroom. SAE International classifies automated driving features into five levels, from basic driver assistance, such as cruise control at Level 1, through to full automation at Level Five. In between are Level 2, partial automation where the driver remains in control, Level 3, conditional automation where human intervention is necessary on request and Level 4, high automation where all critical driving tasks are performed by the car.

Manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Nissan, Tesla and Volvo already provide Level 2 drivers assistance features in the UK. These include systems that provide steering, acceleration and braking assistance when driving on dual carriageways and motorways. Although availability may be limited to specific models and variants at present, over a third of all new vehicles sold in the UK in a decade are expected to be equipped with Level 2 self driving technology.

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