What Will It Take for US Drivers to Adopt Autonomous Cars?

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, most of the interest was centered on new automobile technologies that ultimately lead to self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles. But the goal remains some years in the future, and there are a substantial number of technological improvements that need to be made before autonomous vehicles become reality.

The biggest hurdle, however, may be buy-in from drivers. While U.S. drivers have expressed a desire for new technology, most are still wary of fully autonomous vehicles

In the results of a September 2016 survey released Sunday, nearly half (48%) of U.S. drivers say they would prefer to have the latest technology features as standard equipment rather than a vehicle that’s the exact style they want or the brand they prefer. Well more than half (61%) say they would rather have a vehicle that offers as an option the latest tech rather than a specific color.

And what kind of tech features do drivers want? A full 70% said they would rather have a vehicle with advanced safety features than the vehicle with the latest information and entertainment features.

The survey was conducted by Autotrader, a division of Cox Automotive, and included 1,020 U.S. adults ages 18 and over.

Not only do consumers want these advanced features, they are willing to pay for them: 64% said they were willing to pay extra on their next new car purchase to get all or some of the latest technology. Consumers financing their new car purchases said they were willing to pay an additional $2,356 for the tech features they want; those paying cash said they would pay an extra $2,151.

The feature that two-thirds of drivers wanted to be standard on all new cars was blind spot detection. Among the 49% of those surveyed who were aware of forward collision warning and forward collision avoidance technologies, more than half (56% and 52%, respectively) think these features should be standard equipment.

Among the convenience and comfort features, wireless charging was the best-known and 43% of those surveyed put this feature at the top of their wish lists. Telematics (GPS and performance monitoring) was the top item for 44% of drivers.

While self-driving vehicle technology may be where tech companies and automakers are putting the most effort, the public has both little awareness and relatively little interest in autonomous or connected-car technology. That finding is consistent with earlier results showing that nearly half of U.S. drivers prefer no autonomous technology in their cars.

The Autotrader survey found that 48% are not interested in fully autonomous vehicles; however, only 30% of those surveyed were even aware that such features were being developed. U.S. drivers are leery of autonomous vehicles and, in a different survey, more than a third said even though the car was driving itself they would still be watching the road. Nearly a quarter said they wouldn’t even ride in such a vehicle. That’s a total 60% who would either worry or walk.

Overall, Autotrader survey respondents have a more positive opinion of autonomous vehicles in the latest survey — 36% — compared with 31% in the 2015 survey. And the percentage of drivers who said they would watch the road even though they weren’t driving fell from 65% to 51%. Nearly a fifth (18%) of respondents to this year’s survey said they would sleep, up from 16% the year before.

The implications for automakers include raising public awareness of new tech features and autonomous driving and raising public confidence in the new technologies. That likely means more advertising to raise awareness and, perhaps, a longer sales process as consumers take more time to kick the tires to determine whether they like and are comfortable with the new technology.

The full report on the survey is available at the Cox Automotive website.