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Autonomous Vehicles

“We’re Concerned For Automakers,” Says JD Power Exec — Survey Finds Weak EV & Autonomy Consumer Confidence & Awareness

The Mobility Confidence Index for battery electric and self-driving vehicles remains stagnant — will Tesla help moving forward?

Automakers are investing billions of dollars in new technologies, but consumers don’t seem to understand how these features work or why these automotive technologies would benefit them. The bottom line is that most consumers don’t really have much interest in vehicles with advanced tech and aren’t ready for electric or autonomous vehicles. Those are the findings of a new survey — the JD Power 2020 Q1 Mobility Confidence Index Study fueled by SurveyMonkey Audience.

Responses suggest that, for automakers, more is at stake than just investing money in new and improved technology. Automakers also need to educate consumers about electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs). Lack of consumer knowledge is a huge roadblock for future EV and AV adoption.

Consumer confidence in future mobility technologies lags far behind automakers’ plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to the marketplace, according to the JD Power survey.

  • Self-driving vehicle confidence has decreased for the first time — to 35 from 36 on a 100-point scale — for US consumers and to 36 from 39 for Canadian consumers.
  • Battery-electric vehicle confidence remains at 55 in the US for the 4th consecutive quarter, while decreasing to 57 from 59 in Canada.

“Frankly, we’re concerned for automakers,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & human machine interface research at JD Power.

What Issues do Consumers Have about Autonomous Vehicles?

What is the market readiness and acceptance for AVs, according to consumers and industry experts?

Consumers don’t believe the technology is ready — or that society is ready.

Technology failure or error remains the top concern about self-driving technology in both countries, with Canadians being even more worried about it (75% compared with 67% in the US). In addition, people are wary that AVs will create a lazy society dependent on technology and with diminished driving skills.

People aren’t certain about the time frame for AV public availability.

Experts anticipate self-driving delivery services will be available in the next 4 years but those available for consumer purchase won’t be for 18 years from now. Consumers can’t grasp what AVs will look like due to changing timelines.

Consumer auto needs are changing post COVID-19.

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing may cause consumers to retreat back to privately owned vehicles when the pandemic is over. Then again, self-driving delivery services may arrive at an optimal time, when consumers are looking to minimize social contact.

Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey, offered his insights into consumer perspectives about AVs.

“The marginal short-term shifts in consumer sentiment toward self-driving vehicles only show we’re yet to see the lasting implications of the current crisis on consumer preferences. But we know big changes are ahead, as physical distancing will shake virtually every major industry, including automotive and how we get around. These surveys will give us a glimpse of that future as new consumer preferences form and stick.”

With the NHTSA approval of Nuro testing of driverless delivery vehicles on public roads in California, the feasibility of self-driving delivery coming to market is tangible. “However, automakers continue to encounter technical hurdles in their quest to achieve reliable self-driving personal vehicles,” Kolodge said. “Coupled with consumer sentiment about the technology, there’s still a very long road ahead.”

Are Consumers Ready for EVs?

Not according to them. EV technology and infrastructure availability have progressed dramatically in 23 years, but many consumers still believe EVs are lacking in comparison to internal combustion engine vehicles. (CleanTechnica writers disagree.)

Few consumers have any experience with battery-electric vehicles.

Did you know that 70% of US respondents to the JD Power survey have never been in a battery-electric vehicle? 30% admit they know nothing about them. Comments included confusion about battery replacement costs, how old electric car batteries affect the environment, and if batteries can be recycled.

Perpetual barriers remain.

Charging station availability, driving range, and purchase price are the top 3 barriers to battery-electric vehicles as perceived by US and Canadian consumers today. These were also the top 3 barriers in 1997 when JD Power studied consumer interest in EVs when the GM EV1 was launching.

Kolodge offered some insights into the lack of consumer confidence in EVs and advice for automakers.

“They’re pushing forward with technology that consumers seem to have little interest in. Nor are they making the strides needed to change people’s minds. Especially now, automakers need to reevaluate where they’re spending money. They are investing billions in these technologies but they need to also invest in educating consumers. Lack of knowledge is a huge roadblock for future adoption.”

Final Thoughts

Consumer confidence in future mobility technologies seems to lag far behind automakers’ plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to the marketplace. But education can help consumers to understand the power and place of EVs and AVs in their lives. After all, Tesla has no problem selling its cars, and the volumes it has achieved many thought were impossible a few years ago. And many non-Tesla EV owners love their own EVs like Tesla owners do.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. uttered, “A person’s mind, stretched by new ideas, may never return to its original dimensions.” Automakers need to educate dealers and rely on its experts — the engineers — to communicate with customers and enthusiasts so that the investment of automotive technology aligns with understanding.

There is one question still in frequent debate about automakers and EVs. Did they really want to sell them? We have pointed out many times that increasing EV sales, and increasing awareness of EV benefits, could be a financial death knell for automakers. Transitions so deep are not necessarily easy to survive. The challenge was presented perhaps most clearly in the following two CleanTechnica articles:

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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