J.D. Power: Consumer trust in self-driving cars drops

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

A growing percentage of people say they don’t trust self-driving car technology, according to a J.D. Power study. Falling confidence in all age groups — with the exception of Generation Y drivers born from 1977 to 1994 — poses a challenge to automakers and suppliers who want to roll out the capability in coming years, the study authors say.

General Motors announces Thursday, December 15, 2016, it will immediately begin testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in Michigan. GM will also produce the next generation of its autonomous test vehicles at its Orion Township assembly plant beginning in early 2017. Testing is already underway on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale, AZ. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

The 2017 U.S. Tech Choice Study was released Tuesday at an Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit. It found that compared to its 2016 survey, 11 percent more Gen Z consumers (those born from 1995 to 2004) and 9 percent more pre-boomers (those born before 1946) say they “definitely would not” trust the systems that control robotic cars. The survey found 22 percent of Gen Z consumers don’t trust autonomous technology; nor do 34 percent of Gen X (born from 1965 to 1976), 44 percent of boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) and 49 percent of pre-boomers.

J.D. Power could not explain why Generation Y bucked the trend; 17 percent don’t trust the technology, down from 18 percent in 2016.

The research company found consumers in general are concerned about the added complexity, as well as privacy issues and the possibility of a car being hacked, said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human-machine interface research at J.D. Power.

Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at the California-based research firm, says the industry has reached a watershed moment: Consumers don’t seem willing to give up the steering wheel and brake pedal to a computer.

“The technology is advancing really, really quickly. But the key question for our industry is how does the industry lead consumers into this new world?” Sargent said. “The engineering will get there, can we take consumers with us? Can we kind of carry them over this river of doubt, this fear and frankly lack of understanding, and take them over to the other side?”

This 2014 file photo shows a row of Google self-driving Lexus cars at a Google event outside the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. A growing percentage of people say they don’t trust self-driving vehicle technology, according to a J.D. Power study.

The J.D. Power results differ somewhat from a recent Autotrader study released in January that found 58 percent of millennials have a positive opinion of self-driving cars, up from 41 percent a year earlier. Thirty-six percent of the overall population has a positive opinion on autonomous vehicles, up from 31 percent last year, Autotrader’s survey of online car shoppers found.

Self-driving vehicles, which some automakers say could be on the road within the next four to five years, would allow those unable to drive to be mobile. But the survey found 40 percent of boomers see no benefits. Of those who say they won’t trust a self-driving vehicle, 61 percent say they would not ride in one.

Overall, consumer interest in purchasing fully self-driving cars grew by four percentage points to 18 percent, J.D. Power found. Gen Y interest increased by 12 percentage points from the 2016 survey to 43 percent. The interest in full self-driving technology was nearly double among current Tesla Inc. customers than that of general consumers, and twice as many trusted it.

“It will be critical for manufacturers to communicate in a way that builds trust until such time that the technologies can be experienced, because experience is where the fork in the road for acceptance will really occur,” Kolodge said.

She said it will be tricky sell for dealers: “How do you explain emergency braking and steering to someone in a dealership, how do you get them to experience it?”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment from Google’s self-driving car project, now known as Waymo.

J.D. Power found that the youngest generation, Gen Z, has the highest interest in alternative mobility offerings: Half expressed probable or definite interest in car-sharing or co-ownership of a car; 52 percent were interested in flexible use of a vehicle fleet for a fixed price; 56 percent were interested in taking self-driving cars to pre-determined stops; and 56 percent were interested in ride-sharing through an app such as Uber or Lyft.

Baby boomers have low interest in new mobility options, and their interest level in flexible use of a vehicle fleet for a set price dropped 5 percentage points this year.

Overall, consumers – before factoring in cost – are most interested in technologies related to collision protection and driving assistance: smart headlights; camera rear-view mirrors; emergency braking and steering; lane-change assist; camera side-view mirrors; and advanced windshield displays. The firm found younger consumers generally are more comfortable with systems that would take control while driving or parking.

The online survey of more than 8,500 consumers who bought or leased a new vehicle within the past five years was conducted in January and February.


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