Consumers are excited about the future of in-car technologies — but what do they really want?

Americans spent an average of 17,600 minutes behind the wheel last year — the equivalent of seven 40-hour workweeks — and drove a collective 2.45 trillion miles.[1] So, it should come as no surprise that enthusiasm is high for in-car technologies. But the course is not entirely clear. When it comes to emerging automotive technologies, consumers are excited about the future and at the same time, they want to proceed with caution. And the technologies that drive interest may not be the ones they are willing to pay for.

What do drivers want, and expect, their cars to be equipped to do? Consumers express a clear preference for safety. As we report in PwC’s new study, Driving the future: understanding the new automotive consumer. A closer look at autonomous vehicles, in-car technologies, car sharing, and ridesharing comprehensive vehicle tracking (technologies that provide real-time data on the location of a vehicle if the driver is lost en route or the car is stolen); remote vehicle shutdown (in case of theft); and driver override systems (brakes that engage automatically when the car ahead is too close, for example) rank highest among the emerging technologies consumers are willing to consider having in their vehicles. In fact, some drivers told us they have retrofitted their vehicles with such as devices as camera-assisted back-up, a feature that has been widely available for several years and will be required in all cars built after May, 2018.[2] Safety and security are paramount and perceived to be worth paying for.

Also high on drivers’ “wants” is connectivity, including perfect integration with smartphones and in car wi-fi, for which consumers express near universal desire. With more than 61 percent of drivers saying they want to see their cars become integrated with their smartphones, it’s not hard to imagine a future when the Internet of Things (IoT) will become an increasing presence in our vehicles in much the same way it has in other areas of our daily lives. Connected cars that can check traffic conditions and the weather, plan the best routes, and preset personal preferences for music, seat position, and climate control all before a driver gets behind the wheel may soon be commonplace. Cars that will even be able to monitor a driver’s health and convey vital statistics to a health care provider are not out of the realm of possibility either.

Nevertheless, it’s not full-speed head when it comes to all new in-car technologies. One thing consumers are reluctant to compromise on is privacy, amajority of drivers say they would not give up even some privacy in exchange for access to the most high-tech features. So for example, while augmented reality (AI) displays have been enthusiastically adopted by the most ardent fans of new automotive technologies (despite its relatively low maturity), 60 percent of consumers say they would be unwilling to consider in-car options that enable advertisers to see their personal data, even if such features were free.

There is no single best route for introducing new in-car technologies to consumers. Auto tech creators and manufacturers should obviously target enthusiasts as the early adopters for nearly all categories of automotive technology. These are drivers who enjoy being the first to have cool new features whether or not these technologies seem to have practical benefits. At the same time, drivers with young children, for whom safety is key, may be a good target market for many of the in-car tech features being developed today. Application developers who may relying on consumers to provide personal information in order for their technology to be fully functional, will need to consider consumers’ insistence on privacy. Finally, members of Gen Z (people ages 16–20), perhaps because of their age, the cost of insurance, or the growing availability of ridesharing and car sharing options, don’t appear to have the same enthusiasm for cars as their older counterparts and despite their overwhelming early adoption of mobile technologies, express less interest in auto tech. Companies will want to consider offering services that connect younger consumers more seamlessly.

In-car technologies won’t be going it alone. They are part of a larger universe of new automotive technologies, including autonomous vehicles, ride and car sharing. In-car technologies that offer self-driving features, such as automatic braking or parking, which appear to have mainstream acceptance, may be paving the way for the adoption of autonomous driving. Ridesharing is another way to test autonomous driving with consumers and win over early adopters. Two riding sharing companies are introducing fully autonomous vehicles to their fleets which will help seed the marketplace and give consumers a way to sample the technology before committing to it, not to mention influencing the stance regulators will take. For certain types of in-car technologies and any brand of autonomous vehicle to succeed, consumers need to be willing to give up control. While traditional automotive brands may have the edge over tech brands in consumers’ minds, there are opportunities for disruption as well as partnerships and it is difficult to predict who will be in the driver’s seat moving forward. One thing is certain, the intersection of automotive and technology will have profound implications for drivers’ relationships to their cars and how we get around in the future.

[1] http://publicaffairsresources.aaa.biz/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/AmericanDrivingSurvey2015.pdf

[2] http://readwrite.com/2014/04/16/backup-cameras-law-2018-nhtsa-safety/

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