Will the Ability to Order Coffee Sell Self-Driving Cars?

Print Email

The public is intrigued by self-driving cars, and some people are a little afraid of them. Can a machine do a better job than a human? Will the machine take away all the fun of the open road?

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) has come up with one more way to swing people’s opinion in the direction of autonomous vehicle acceptance. Its cars allow people to order coffee from the road. And they can use the screens on their dashboards to do it.

GM management announced that it is:

… rolling out the automotive industry’s first commerce platform for on-demand reservations and purchases of goods and services. With Marketplace, drivers can now order and pay for their favorite coffee — and much more — on the way to work with a simple tap on the dash.

Marketplace allows customers to order food, find the closest gas station to save on fuel, and make dinner reservations on the go. This means Marketplace gives drivers of eligible Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles the opportunity to more safely interact with a growing number of their favorite brands in retail, fuel, hospitality, food, hotel and transportation through the in-vehicle touchscreen.

GM needs the right partners to make the package attractive. It has set up ventures with Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Exxon Mobil, Priceline and IHOP, among others. Presumably these companies are large enough and have enough marketing muscle to promote the arrangements as well. That is, unless each of GM’s partners thinks the car order system is good for a press release, but nothing more.

GM and the balance of the industry have mostly ignored questions of why people may shy away from self-driving cars. There is no major public education push to show potential customers why the cars are safe. Manufacturers can’t make the case that the cars are as fun as human-controlled cars.

Self-driving car makers still have to offset anecdotes about vehicles that can’t recognize cows or see everything the human eye can, let alone make human judgments. The counterbalance to this is that self-driving cars can see and react to things humans cannot. That is the advantage that needs to be pressed.

Can pancakes offset panic? GM’s new system may tell us.