Who Will Use Self-Driving Cars?

Last week, Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle business, announced that completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way – at least for customers in the suburbs of Phoenix. And this is not a one-off. Ford Motor Company recently chose Austin, Texas as the next city to test and deploy self-driving vehicles.

What does the future of autonomous vehicle hold? Will it be about robo-taxis, long-haul truck fleets, grocery delivery or food delivery drones? The latest Intelligence of Things Tracker looks at how IoT is advancing, with a particular focus on autonomous vehicles.

Consumer Sentiment About Smart Cars 

According to the PYMNTS/Visa Digital Drive report, only about 14 percent of consumers are “extremely interested” in owning or using an autonomous car, with about 21 percent saying they are “very interested” and 23 percent “somewhat interested.”

While self-driving vehicles might be synonymous with tech early adopters, much of the innovation could potentially target a very different user than the Silicon Valley stereotype.

That is, if consumer concerns can be allayed. According to a AAA survey, 71 percent of consumers are afraid to ride in fully self-driving vehicles.

High-profile cases last year – where an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a person and a Tesla driver on “autopilot” was killed – have not helped matters any. In fact, in a previous survey, the number of fearful consumers was lower (63 percent).

Consumers are more receptive to automated vehicle technology in limited applications. A majority (53 percent) are okay with low-speed, short-distance forms of transportation like those found at airports or theme parks, while 44 percent are on-board with fully self-driving vehicles for delivery of food or packages.

However, comfort levels dip to 20 percent when it comes to consumers who are comfortable with self-driving vehicles transporting themselves or their families.

Similar sentiments were expressed in a study from the NAMIC (National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies). Nearly half (42 percent) said they wouldn’t ride in fully automated vehicles, regardless of how many years they were available, while a similar figure (46 percent) was skeptical about using a driverless, fully automated vehicle as a ridesharing option.

According to a study by Leasing Options, a car leasing agency, 62.6 percent of consumers trust a driverless car that is made by an automaker versus a tech or taxi company. Volvo (22.6 percent) and Volkswagen (22.4 percent) received the highest marks, while 31.3 percent would trust Apple. Only 6 percent trust a ridesharing company such as Uber.

Who Will Use Smart Cars?

The NAMIC study found that driverless cars appealed to 10 percent of consumers due to environmental concerns and 19 percent for potential increased auto safety.

These two factors were cited by Joe Moye, CEO of autonomous mobility company Beep, in an interview with PYMNTS. However, safety and environmental concerns over vehicles have led many millennial and Gen Z customers to rely more on public transportation or rideshares, which means the individual self-driving car may not be as desirable as some manufacturers are expecting.

Public transportation might be a different story, though. Beep piloted a public, IoT-enabled self-driving shuttle earlier this year in a Florida suburb. The shuttles can currently seat 10 passengers and drive at a controlled speed limit of 16 miles per hour.

The pilot involved residents of a planned community, which on the surface seems to be the opposite of Gen Z. But older and younger demographics share some common traits. The technology may engage younger consumers, even though it targets residents who lack access to personal vehicles or may otherwise have driving difficulties. “Specifically, we expect this to appeal to the millennial generation, the elderly and the disabled,” said Moye.

Similar services could have applications for other low-speed environments like transportation hubs, medical and university campuses, entertainment venues or urban centers.

The Future

Based on consumer sentiment, the future of self-driving cars doesn’t seem all rosy. There is no question that autonomous vehicles have been running into serious roadblocks.

But as UberWaymo, major automotive manufacturers and other companies have invested in the technology and announced fresh tests, a sense of optimism that the autonomous future was just around the corner continued to grow, with expectations occasionally approaching the level of hype.

Most (53 percent) of consumers could see fully automated vehicles on the market within two to 10 years, and more than half of Americans (55 percent) think most cars will have the ability to drive themselves by 2029.