Will Serious Drivers Ever Accept Autonomous Cars?

Google Driverless Prius

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.

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