Recently, a couple of my older relatives contacted me, wanting to know if I thought they should buy a vehicle – specifically a Tesla – that has autonomous driving capabilities.
They are at the age where driving is becoming a burden, where they recognize that their reflexes are not as quick as they used to be, and their eyesight isn’t as sharp. They were excited at the prospect of outsourcing the responsibilities of driving and hopefully keeping themselves and others on the road safe.
I told them that there were many vehicles on the market that offer semi-autonomous assistive driving modes, but, as of yet, fully autonomous self-driving vehicles still require years of development and regulatory approvals until they become available to consumers. And that Tesla’s Autopilot system needs to be renamed and remarketed, stat.
They were a bit disappointed but hopeful that the day is coming soon when they can simply get into a car, tell it where to go, and let it drive them there.
Autonomous Cars Are Inevitable
It seems like a world full of self-driving cars is an inevitable outcome. Aside from Tesla promising a big leap forward for its Autopilot technology just as soon as the government approves it, longstanding automakers like Ford predict fully driverless vehicles will be on the market in 2021.
There is certainly a market out there, as my aging family members can attest. People who hate to drive, people who think driving is an unproductive waste of time, and people who are losing confidence in their ability to pilot two tons of metal and glass down the highway at 70 miles per hour want self-driving cars right away.
Why don’t they use public transportation of ride-hailing services? My relatives say that owning an autonomous vehicle allows them to maintain the independence and freedom of being able to go where they want, when they want.
New Report Says Most People Don’t Want a Self-Driving Car
People who want self-driving vehicles remain in the minority, according to a new report by Reuters/Ipsos, published in March 2019. Based on a survey of 2,222 people, two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) said they would not purchase a self-driving car. And 41 percent of the remaining 37 percent said that they would not shell out more than $2,000 for a feature that allows the car to be driven by a computer.
These findings are not outliers, as the survey mirrors others that state that mistrust of autonomous vehicles exists. Clearly, this is a hurdle that companies who are developing these technologies must overcome if they are to gain widespread acceptance. Further, these numbers are essentially identical to a similar survey performed in 2018, which means that increased progress and greater understanding of the benefits isn’t swaying the minds of future consumers.
It doesn’t help, of course, that rare collisions involving autonomous test vehicles and catastrophic collisions involving semi-autonomous privately owned vehicles (often Teslas) sometimes make the media rounds for months, especially when they involve fatalities. These reports stick with the consumer. And don’t even get me started on the Boeing 737 Max issue.
The fact that automakers and tech companies are so secretive about their technology, and their progress in perfecting the systems, doesn’t help to foster confidence in the consumers who will, one day, entrust their very lives to computers and radars.
When the technology is finally ready for public consumption, it will be up to savvy marketers to create demand for a product that, today, causes anxiety and fear in the majority of the population. Time will tell if clever ad campaigns can assuage consumers by touting safety, appealing to rationality, and creating the desire to do something other than drive while you’re in the car.
And then, of course, there are those who enjoy the act of driving and the independence of being able to go where they want, when they want, no matter the time of day or weather conditions.
Taking the keys away from these types of people is a completely different challenge.