Consumers are equally as apprehensive to trust self-driving vehicles as they are to trust auto manufacturers in light of recent scandals

Three Out Of Four Consumers Respond Favorably To Self-Driving Vehicles; Consumers Predict Companies Most Likely To Produce First Self-Driving Vehicle: Google and Tesla

Detroit, MI – Phoenix Marketing International (PMI), a global marketing services firm, today released new findings from a recent qualitative study conducted by its Automotive Division. The focus of the research was to investigate how automotive consumers feel about self-driving / autonomous vehicles, which are garnering more and more attention in the media. The research shows that although a majority (~75%) of people expressed a positive sentiment when asked about autonomous driving vehicles, consumers still have concerns about them.  

According to the research, the most frequently mentioned advantage that consumers acknowledged in favor of autonomous driving vehicles is also the most frequently mentioned disadvantage, which is safety. Many consumers agree that autonomous vehicles will likely reduce car accidents and make the roads much safer in the long run; however, with all the electronics involved in making a self-driving vehicle work, consumers are equally apprehensive about potential malfunctions as well as having problems with hackers that may make the vehicles unsafe.  Here is a short video of a consumer who echoes these sentiments: http://bit.ly/1GNBv1X

The research also shows a strong emotional connection to the topic of safety, both positive and negative. Feelings of both excitement and fear were expressed when responding to the question, “How do you feel about self-driving/autonomous vehicles?” Specifically, some advantages mentioned by consumers include things like an increase in productivity and multitasking while commuting, and providing a good alternative transportation option to the elderly, those with disabilities, or even drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or fatigued, rendering them unable to drive safely.  

Disadvantages expressed by consumers include potential accountability issues in the event of an accident, not being able to afford a vehicle with so much technology, not trusting the technology to react in the appropriate way, and a feeling of not being in control. One comment in particular accurately sums up how many people feel: “I think the idea of a driverless car is awesome. I think it’s also kind of a little bit terrifying just because cars are basically giant computers. So they have glitches and they can mess up every so often.” Interestingly, of the few who expressed negative feedback, most were female drivers varying in ages.  

Respondents were also asked which brand(s) they believed would be the first to bring a fully autonomous driving vehicle to market. Google and Tesla were the most frequently mentioned companies, since they are perceived as being very advanced, forward-thinking, innovative companies. In addition to some high-tech companies, some mainstream automotive manufacturers were also mentioned, such as Mercedes and BMW, who are known for producing high-end luxury vehicles with advance features and technology.  

Phoenix’s data also shows that just as consumers are fearful of relinquishing total control and trusting an autonomous driving vehicle, they are equally apprehensive to trust manufacturers in light of the various scandals, particularly the most recent one involving Volkswagen’s (VW) cheat software for vehicle emissions. Over 80% of respondents mentioned the Volkswagen scandal, but GM and Toyota were also mentioned by about 20% of the sample. When asked how recent recalls or scandals affected their view of auto manufacturers, over half (~56%) felt deceived, concerned and disappointed. The data also show that the damage is widespread. Consumers think that manufacturers across the industry as a whole, not just Volkswagen, may likely engage in behaviors that are inappropriate and may also be lying or hiding secrets. Here is another video of one consumer’s sentiment that illustrates this widespread opinion: http://bit.ly/1kwSR8A As a result, many indicated that they will do more research than they normally would have before purchasing their next new vehicle and will also pay closer attention to news related to automobile manufacturers and vehicle warranties.  

Fortunately for VW and the industry as a whole, there were some consumers (~36%) whose perceptions weren’t changed as a result of the scandals. These consumers were not surprised by the news because they understand that the manufacturers have to answer to stockholders who expect them to perform well financially.  “Not really surprising . . . I just think that this industry has so much money at stake, the shareholders aren’t known to be understanding, and with all that money at stake there is such incentive to cheat or be dishonest, but it doesn’t change the way I look at the automaker.” Others went so far as to indicate that the VW scandal was blown out of proportion, saying that such scandals are possible in any industry, but that the auto manufacturers seem to get all of the media coverage. The overall takeaway from the research is that all automobile manufacturers, not just VW, will have to prove to consumers that they have their best interest at heart. It will take time for the industry as a whole to earn back the trust of consumers, but history shows that it is possible.  

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