Deloitte finds consumers still worry about self-driving car safety

autonomous vehicles, market research
Self-driving vehicles still give consumers the willies, according to a Deloitte survey that found about half of U.S. drivers believe they will be unsafe. (Sensors)

The massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 event officially launches Tuesday in Las Vegas with a heavy emphasis on emerging self-driving car technology from car makers and electronics providers that make sensors, circuits and chips.

While there’s a lot of enthusiasm from this industry crowd for assisted driving and autonomous vehicles (AVs), the public still feels skeptical about the safety of AVs and associated costs to afford vehicles that use such tech.

Deloitte surveyed 35,000 driving-aged consumers from 20 countries and found that 48% of U.S. consumers believe that fully autonomous cars will be unsafe, while 58% said they won’t pay more than $500 for the AV technology in a new car.

Fully autonomous vehicles will emerge from a few enterprising companies this year and next, but it will take a decade or more for broader adoption in the biggest cities and along designated highways. Many government transportation officials endorse self-driving cars to reduce car accidents and fatalities, since 90% of car-related deaths are blamed on driver error.

The Deloitte study also found that 68% of U.S. consumers are concerned about sharing the road with multi-ton autonomous trucks. And 56% were apprehensive about riding in shared robo-taxi or similar vehicle.

These public perceptions should shape how automakers and electronics providers market AVs and plan for future production and the outlay of billions of dollars in costs for research and development, Deloitte analysts advised.

“Stakeholders across the auto industry are currently facing challenges when it comes to business models and product portfolios as they are forced to rethink long term investments while not getting left behind,” said Joe Vitale, global auto sector leader for Deloitte Consulting.  

“Underlying these massive R&D investments is the assumption that consumers will actually pay for advanced vehicle technologies when they appear on the market,” he added. “However, as consumer skepticism gains momentum, automakers should rationalize returns on invested capital to remain profitable as consumers’ desires to purchase new technologies continue to wane....” He urged carmakers to “shift gears” to a greater focus on electric vehicles.

In fact, Deloitte found that demand for electrified vehicles (EVs) has accelerated, compared with a previous study done a year ago. In the U.S., Deloitte found that 41% of those polled said they are actively considering buying an alternative-fuel vehicle (including hybrid electric and battery-powered electric), up from 29% last year.

Interest in electric grew in many other countries as well, but not by as much. In China, the latest poll showed a decline in interest, reaching 57% in the latest poll, down from 65% a year ago.

Deloitte vice chairman Craig Giffi said the auto ecosystem has work to do in deciding who will build and pay for electric charging infrastructure and making EVs “as easy and convenient as internal combustion engines.”

The study found that 41% of U.S. consumers believe full battery vehicles should have a range of 300 miles, even though the average vehicle owner only travels 27 miles per day.

The survey was conducted online in 20 countries with about 3,000 respondents each from the U.S., Germany, China, India, Japan and Korea. 

Attitudes about the value of AVs vary widely across geographies. People in India and China are embracing the idea that connectivity with infrastructure and other cars is beneficial at twice the rate compared to Germany and well ahead of the U.S. In India, 80% agree that increasing vehicle connectivity will be beneficial, compared to 46% in the U.S. and just 36% in Germany.

But the study also found that India and China have increased concerns that AVs will not be safe compared to a year ago, while the U.S., Japan, Korea and Germany remain nearly as concerned as they were a year ago.

Also more than half of respondents in the U.S. and India said they were concerned about fully autonomous vehicles being tested on public roads where they live.

RELATED: As radar technology on cars proliferates so do interference concerns