The future when cars drive themselves



January 31, 2017:

A week ago Deloitte issued a new report called “The race to autonomous driving.” It’s part of a series they have been publishing about the future of mobility. Overall, it’s good stuff, full of interesting facts and figures, and key instructions to the automotive industry that it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Since last summer, some 19 different car and technology companies announced firm and specific plans to launch some type of autonomous vehicle to the streets of America by 2020 or so. The future will include cars driving themselves, much sooner than you might expert.

Deloitte’s new report shares findings from a global study among consumers about their interest in driverless vehicles. The key findings in the U.S. are that:

  • Consumers are growing more interested in the idea of autonomous vehicles, but they are also now less likely to want to pay “extra” for autonomous features (our guess is that people want them as standard features).
  • As of now, younger generations are more interested in driverless cars than older.
  • Those who use ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft are more likely to believe they will not need a car in the future.
  • Car companies don’t have a leg up on start-ups when it comes to being trusted to deliver a driverless car.
  • Consumers are not convinced that driverless cars will be safe.
  • The technology most people want in their car are more “safety” features like lane departure warnings or assisted braking. There’s less interest in other bells and whistles.

Unfortunately, the report fails to acknowledge that asking consumers today about driverless cars is a bit premature. Consumers don’t know what they are, how they will work, how they will impact their lives, etc. This is just guesswork by the respondents at this stage.

Our caution is to not get too excited — good or bad — about any survey done among consumers about driverless cars until 2021, which is when people may actually get to experience them. This is one innovation that follows the old adage: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Until people can ride around in a car with no steering wheel, it’s hard to imagine it.

What’s the Generational Dynamic?

We recently completed some work with generations and the potential long-term impact of cars driving themselves. In our limited study we learned that Millennials had a hard time “seeing” it. Compared to Gen Xers and Boomers, they had more difficulty imaging a future where they would not own a car at all.

For a moment, we were baffled by it.

Then, we realized their reluctance will dissipate as autonomous vehicles go from wild-hair idea to real world transportation. Again, it’s an innovation one will have to see to believe.

Second, we realized Millennials have not experienced enough life yet to see the impact of a world-changing technological advance. You see, they have always had the Internet and World Wide Web. Older Gen Xers and Boomers, who recall life before the early 1990s, have seen such a world-changing advance already and would not be surprised to see another one.

Next Week: Pluralism and Big Tents