As robotic driverless cars become an approaching reality – autonomous cars by 2020 and semi-autonomous cars much sooner – there are some big questions out there about how well this technology will be embraced by drivers who love performance and style. For many American car drivers, especially males in the Baby Boomer and Gen X categories, the driving experience could be summed up by a few themes – Manifest Destiny, Route 66, and Vegas, Baby, Vegas! Americans do appreciate their personal freedom, and tend to expect a certain level of privacy. While younger Americans – GenY and early GenX – tend to care less about who sees them on Facebook or Youtube, their parents and other elders do have more of a concern about Big Brother breathing down their necks and losing personal privacy and freedom of mobility.
There’s also the question of how much it will cost – a technology upgrade this big is bound to raise vehicle prices. A JD Power and Associates survey from last year found 37% of drivers interested in driverless cars, but interest level dropped to 20% if it adds $3,000 to the price of the car. For fleet managers, there’s also a list of unanswered legal and insurance questions in this age of litigation and regulation – following a fatal crash, who gets the blame?
There is a period of transition to autonomous cars – automakers will have to cultivate buyers who will be comfortable sitting in driverless car, says Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics at Automotive Press Association. We’re actually already half the way there – the first cars that had brake intervention was a bellwether moment for autonomous cars, Hall said.
Whatever the implications, automakers are heading full speed ahead toward autonomous cars. Adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning systems, and automated parallel parking are vivid examples of this transitional technology.
One of the keys for customer acceptance would be to make it easy to throw the switch and turn the autonomous functions on or off, making sure the driver still has some control. Hall thinks autonomous cars should first be adopted by taxis and rental cars, especially in large, crowded cities where shortcuts could be found and the benefits of automated vehicles are sold. Telematics is a big step forward, along with connected car technology and advanced vehicle safety systems.