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How prepared are we for self-driving cars?

Posted: 24 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Barr  self-driving car  Strategy Analytics  ADAS  autonomous car 

My husband, a notorious Luddite, asked me once, "Junko, can you name me one person who's looking forward to driving a self-driving car?"

My gut reaction? No. Well, except for Michael Barr, an embedded software expert and co-founder and CTO of the Barr Group. I asked him once if he was looking forward to driving a self-driving car, and he said, "Yes." But he quickly added, with an anxious laugh: "They also make me nervous."

Google video clips typically portray the blind, the lame, the elderly and the underaged delighted with a new car that has no steering wheel or brake pedal.

As a reporter, I come across a lot of breathless coverage of self-driving cars by my fellow news media wizards. I've gotten breathless myself once or twice.

I think we should be impressed with how far Google has advanced the self-driving car. We marvel at what the technology can accomplish. Car companies are similarly captivated; they've announced aggressive targets for offering self-driving automobiles as soon as 2020.

Being mesmerised by technological virtuosity is one thing. Actually agreeing to surrender your steering wheel to that technology? Well, that's different.

Consider a survey conducted by Strategy Analytics in March, sampling 1,200 people in the United States and 1,200 in Western Europe (300 each in Germany, the UK, France and Italy).

Respondents were asked about their level of interest and willingness to pay for several advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). They included blind spot detection, forward collision warning and four autonomous levels: parking assistance, autonomous highway driving, autonomous high-density traffic and fully autonomous. Participants were asked to rate each feature as one for which they would pay more, one that would be a tie-breaker when comparing one vehicle to another, one that was nice to have, or one in which they weren't interested.

According to Chris Schreiner, director for the automotive consumer insights service at Strategy Analytics, only 10 per cent of US respondents rated the high-density traffic autonomous level as worth paying extra; 11 per cent felt that way about the parking assistance, highway driving and fully autonomous levels.

In Europe, the numbers were lower: 11 per cent for parking assistance, seven per cent for highway and high-density traffic and eight per cent for fully autonomous. Overall, the number of respondents be willing to pay extra fell off once the price rose above $1,500.

More important was "the per centage that were not at all interested" in autonomous vehicles, Schreiner said. "In the US, 40 per cent were not at all interested in fully autonomous driving. In Western Europe, it was 50 per cent."

You could say that asking consumers about something new, something they've never personally experienced before, tends to skew results. That's true. But the Strategy Analytics research reveals one thing: Pitching autonomous cars to consumers won't exactly be a no-brainer for most carmakers.

There's no question that self-driving cars will be a game changer for the handicapped, the elderly and kids who can't drive. But for average drivers, self-driving cars won't become a must-purchase item for a long time, for various reasons.

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