Survey reaffirms skepticism for electric, autonomous vehicles

 Tesla Model S electric vehicle Alt text/Description
J.D. Power's latest 2019 Q4 Mobility Confidence Index Study confirmed the public's continuing skepticism towards autonomous and electric vehicles. (Pixabay)

Despite progress being made to bring electric and autonomous vehicles to market, the key challenge may very well be changing the public’s skeptical views of these emerging technologies. According to the J.D. Power 2019 Q4 Mobility Confidence Index Study fueled by SurveyMonkey Audience, the Mobility Confidence Index remains 36 (on a 100-point scale) for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles for a third consecutive quarter.

“Consumer opinion doesn’t change overnight, especially when it comes to new mobility technologies, but the more consumers are exposed to these technologies, the more the needle might gradually move towards acceptance,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & human machine interface research at J.D. Power. “Right now, they simply don’t know enough to fully put their trust in these systems.”

The quarterly study, which will include feedback from Canadian respondents in 2020, helps to gauge the acceptance and market readiness for self-driving and battery-electric vehicles, from the standpoint of consumers and industry experts. Sentiment is segmented into three categories: low (0-40), neutral (41-60) and positive (61-100). J.D. Power is joined by global survey software company SurveyMonkey to conduct the study, where more than 6,000 consumers and industry experts were polled about self-driving vehicles, and more than 5,000 were polled about battery-electric vehicles.

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For self-driving vehicles, the survey found:

  • Mobility Confidence Index remains low for self-driving vehicles: Consumers continue to have a low level of confidence about the future of self-driving vehicles, which is stalled at an overall score of 36 for the third quarter in a row. Additionally, all attributes analyzed in the study largely remain flat, with comfort riding in a self-driving vehicle and comfort with self-driving public transit the lowest-scoring.
  • The jury is out on potential traffic safety improvements: Consumers are split about whether traffic safety will be improved with self-driving vehicle technology. The majority (59%) of those who express having “a great deal” of knowledge about self-driving technology believe traffic safety will be better, compared to 55% with “no knowledge at all” who believe it will be worse. One concern was “[A vehicle’s] computer can't be programmed for every possible thing that might be encountered and appropriate action taken.”
  • Knowledge about self-driving vehicles affects purchase consideration: Only 11% of survey respondents express they are “extremely likely” to purchase or lease a self-driving vehicle. The results vary widely based on respondents’ self-reported knowledge level on the subject. Of those stating they know “a great deal” about self-driving vehicles, 32% are “extremely likely” to purchase or lease one; of those stating they know “nothing at all,” the likelihood drops to 3%.

“Knowledge is power,” Kolodge said. “There is an association between self-reported knowledge level of self-driving vehicles and likelihood to purchase. Undoubtedly, it is critical for consumers to gain experience even through lower levels of automation.”

These are key findings on battery-electric vehicles:

  • Mobility Confidence Index remains neutral for battery-electric vehicles: With an overall score of 55 for a third straight quarter, confidence about the future of battery-electric vehicles remains neutral. Attributes scoring lowest include likelihood of purchasing an electric vehicle and reliability of electric compared to gas-powered vehicles.
  • Prospects for battery-electric vehicles improving, say experts: According to industry experts, prospects for battery-electric vehicles have improved over the past three months. New product announcements and battery development are positive drivers for this improvement. “[There are] more entries into the market that are better and are actually vehicles customers want to drive—from brands they trust,” said one expert.

“For automakers it is critical that the coming wave of new products stimulates new consumer demand,” Kolodge said. “Otherwise, too many products will continue to chase too few customers, which will be financially disastrous for many automakers.”

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