Consumers Stay Wary of Self-Driving, Electric Vehicles

“It was a little surprising to find consumer sentiment...has stayed flat,” says J. D. Power’s Kristin Kolodge.

Steve Finlay, Contributing Editor

October 16, 2019

3 Min Read
Kristin Kolodge
Of EVs, Kolodge says: “Automakers should focus as much on developing some overriding advantages instead of just working on minimizing the disadvantages.”Joe Wilssens

Most surveyed consumers aren’t budging on their lack of confidence in tomorrow’s self-driving cars and today’s battery-electric vehicles, according to new J.D. Power polling.

As auto manufacturers invest billions in impending autonomous vehicles and increased EV choices, many consumers question the new technologies.

That’s according to J.D. Power’s 2019 Q3 Mobility Confidence Index Study. With the latest polling, the index now stands at 36 (on a 100-point scale) for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles. That’s identical to three months ago.

“It was a little surprising to find consumer sentiment about self-driving vehicles and electrification has stayed flat,” says Kristin Kolodge, J.D. Power’s executive director-driver interaction and human-machine interface research.

“But it shows that consumers are really steadfast in their opinions about new mobility technologies right now, regardless of how close they are to being available for purchase,” she says.

That’s not necessarily sour news for automakers, Kolodge says. “Rather, it shows the areas where consumers need to be better-educated and gives manufacturers the chance to correct their course on the path to eventual production.”

The quarterly study measures market readiness for and acceptance of self-driving and battery-electric vehicles, as seen by both consumers and industry experts.

J.D. Power teamed with survey software company SurveyMonkey to conduct the study in which more than 5,000 consumers and industry experts were polled on self-driving vehicles and another 5,000 on battery-electric vehicles.

Key findings about self-driving vehicles:

  • Regarding that soft consumer confidence, scoring lowest among the self-driving attributes are comfort riding in a self-driving vehicle and comfort with self-driving public transit.

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of consumers say they have little to no knowledge about self-driving vehicle technology

  • Women are less comfortable about autonomous vehicles than are men. Only half as many women say they are OK with various self-driving scenarios, including riding in one and being on the road with them.

  • Industry experts say perfecting self-driving technology is proving more challenging than originally thought. One industry expert noted, “Tech and automotive companies continue to learn how difficult the problem really is.” Gaining consumer trust and acceptance will be critical.

  • Consumers are more hopeful than worried about the overall benefit of technology in their lives, but 38% remain unexcited about any self-driving technology. Consumers are most worried about tech failures/errors (71%). One consumer said, “History has shown that past technological advances, such as electrical or computer, fail with time and are too costly to repair.” Another said: “It’s going to put a lot of people out of jobs.”

Key findings about battery-electric vehicles:

  • Scoring low among consumers are likelihood of purchasing an electric vehicle and reliability confidence.

  • Industry experts say consumer affordability and trust remain the top challenges. They also recognize that the cost to produce electric vehicles and the development of a charging infrastructure are critical challenges that must be addressed.

  • More than half (60%) of those who have owned a battery-electric vehicle are “extremely likely” or “very likely” to repurchase a similar vehicle. Conversely, 59% of those who have never been in such a vehicle are “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to purchase or lease one. However, more than three-fourths of both groups say tax credits or subsidies could affect their purchase decision. (A mere 4% of respondents have owned an EV.)

  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents believe the cost of charging an EV will be cheaper than gasoline expenses, but 65% are concerned about charging-station availability.

Of EVs, Kolodge says: “Automakers should focus as much on developing some overriding advantages instead of just working on minimizing the disadvantages. Consumers don’t know what to ask for but there are all sorts of possibilities. The first automakers to solve this will have a huge advantage.”

About the Author(s)

Steve Finlay

Contributing Editor, WardsAuto

Steven Finlay is a former longtime editor for WardsAuto. He writes about a range of topics including automotive dealers and issues that impact their business.

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