Deloitte Study: Fact, Fiction and Fear Cloud Future of Autonomous Vehicles in the Minds of Consumers

Consumers around the world remain skeptical about the safety of fully autonomous vehicles and hold widely divergent views on who they trust to bring autonomous vehicles to market, according to a new study from Deloitte.

The study compares consumer attitudes from 17 countries on self-driving cars, advanced safety, powertrain systems and cockpit technologies, along with people’s willingness to pay for these features. The report, “What’s ahead for fully autonomous driving: Consumer opinions on advanced vehicle technology,” features key insights from consumers in the United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea, China and India.

Reflecting on the findings of the research, Craig Giffi, vice chairman and U.S. automotive industry leader, Deloitte LLP, and co-author of the report commented, “Automakers are under significant pressure to invest more heavily and place bigger bets with less certain returns than we have seen in this industry in several generations.”

Trust and safety first
Interest in fully autonomous vehicles has risen slightly in China (4 percent) and the U.S. (3 percent) since 2014, but interest has remained flat or declined in the four remaining countries in the report. 

Trust appears to be the biggest roadblock to selling the notion of self-driving cars in every country surveyed. South Korea holds the highest number – 81 percent – of people who express safety concerns about fully autonomous vehicles and China shows the lowest, though still a majority of consumers, at 62 percent. The U.S. falls roughly in the middle, where nearly three-quarters of consumers (74 percent) believe fully autonomous vehicles will not be safe. For the other countries in the study, the percent of consumers who believe fully autonomous vehicle will not be safe are: Japan at 79 percent, Germany at 72 percent and India at 64 percent.

More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) say they’ll change their opinion with a proven track record for such vehicles and more than half of U.S. drivers (54 percent) say they would ride in an autonomous car if it was offered by a brand they trust.

However, consumers around the world have widely divergent views of who they trust.  In the U.S., less than half of consumers (47 percent) trust a traditional car manufacturer to bring autonomous vehicles to market. The news is worse for Silicon Valley technology companies with only 20 percent of U.S. consumers indicating they trust these companies when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology. Another 27 percent of U.S. consumers indicate they would trust a new company specializing in autonomous vehicle technology. Japanese consumers (76 percent) have the greatest trust in a traditional car manufacturer to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market, while consumers in China and India have the lowest trust in traditional car manufacturers at 27 percent and 34 percent, respectively. South Korea was next with 44 percent of consumers who trust a traditional car manufacturer, followed by the U.S. at 47 percent, Germany at 51 percent and finally Japan at 76 percent. 

“Automakers and technology companies first have to earn consumers’ trust, then turn that trust into a willingness to pay for a must-have feature,” said Giffi. “Today trust is lacking. Ironically, fully autonomous vehicles are being engineered to be much safer than today’s vehicles.”

Giffi went on to say, “To win consumers’ trust, automakers will need to integrate limited self-driving and advanced-safety features into new product offerings steadily over time to introduce people to the technology, demonstrate the improvement for vehicle safety and develop a proven track record.”

Bells and whistles fizzle, safety sizzles
Across the six focus countries, four predictive safety capabilities were ranked as the most-preferred on a list of 32 advanced technology features. These include features that recognize objects on a road to avoid collision, inform the driver of dangerous driving situations or block them from one, or can assist in a medical emergency or accident.

Least useful to surveyed consumers are features that provide customized entertainment, or many forms of cockpit connectivity including notifications when places of interest are near. This also includes features that manage daily activities such as: locating, reserving and automatically paying for parking or paying for tolls; connectivity allowing a driver to control automated home systems; and enabling the use of personal smartphone applications through the vehicle dashboard. These are important findings for manufacturers considering investing resources to offer these features in future vehicles. 

Trying to get consumers to pay for new technology features is even harder: Most forms of cockpit connectivity technologies are among those that consumers are also least likely to pay for. The amount Americans are willing to spend on advanced automotive technologies dropped nearly one-third (32 percent) to $925 from Deloitte’s 2014 study when it averaged $1,370 across five technology categories, and fell nearly one-half (48 percent) to $360 (from $700 in 2014) in Japan.

Joe Vitale, global automotive industry leader, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, and co-author of the report, said, “Consistent with their views that advanced safety features are most useful, consumers are far more willing to pay for these features versus other technologies such as connectivity and cockpit convenience features. Consumers expect those to be a part of the base price at no additional cost.”

Electrification will provide limited juice
Complicating the decisions for automakers is limited consumer interest around alternative powertrains. Consumers in China are more interested in alternative powertrain technologies than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Still, just over half of Chinese respondents (53 percent) said they would prefer a hybrid-electric, battery electric or any other form of alternative powertrain in their next vehicle, followed by Japan and South Korea, both at 42 percent. Consumers in Germany, India and the U.S. lag behind other consumers surveyed, with just 28 percent, 27 percent and 24 percent, respectively, indicating they would prefer a hybrid-electric, battery-electric or other form of electrified powertrain in their next vehicle.

Vitale noted, “Unfortunately, unless preference in hybrid-electric and battery-electric vehicles increases considerably in the U.S. and Europe over the next five years, automakers will be hard pressed to meet the stringent fuel efficiency and emissions targets being mandated by regulators in the years to come.”

Giffi added, “It’s a genuine dilemma for automakers. Many of the technologies automakers are investing heavily in today, are not considered useful, safe or preferred by the consumers we surveyed, and under very few circumstances are they willing to pay anything extra for these technologies. The desire for safety features seems to be the lone bright spot.” 

Vitale went on to add, “Consumers have shown they can change their opinions quickly. But getting a fair return on investment has to be a key concern for automakers at this point.” 

Ride-hailers hit the brakes on car ownership
Ride-hailing and sharing services are poised to shake up the auto industry down the road. Ride-hailing use varies greatly by country with roughly one-quarter of Americans (23 percent) using ride-hailing services at least once a week; almost half of consumers in emerging markets like India (47 percent) and China (43 percent) do so, eclipsing countries like South Korea (19 percent), Germany (7 percent) and Japan (4 percent).

Consumers who use ride-hailing services are most likely to question whether they need to own a vehicle in the future, a sentiment worth automakers’ notice, particularly those looking to appeal to younger generations of buyers. That number is highest in India (61 percent), followed by the U.S. at 52 percent. These figures spike among Generations Y and Z, where roughly two-thirds in India (66 percent) and the U.S. (64 percent) feel they may be able to skip vehicle ownership altogether. “Ride-hailing represents a major threat or a significant opportunity for automakers depending upon how and where they decide to play in this emerging market,” said Vitale.

Giffi summed up the study findings saying, “We are at the dawn of a completely new age in automotive technology and personal mobility and the stakes are very high for automakers and technology companies. Brands can differentiate themselves with product reliability, usefulness, safety, value and service offerings as they have in the past; the difference is that everything in this new world of mobility has changed, and past success is not an indicator of future success. Individual brands will either be bolstered or hindered by their track record with these new technologies and services, and it is not a given that consumers will forgive mistakes, missteps or failures of trust. While an enormous opportunity exists to develop lifelong loyal customers for companies with a proven track record, consumers won’t hesitate to turn their backs on companies they’ve trusted for decades.”

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