Consumers say they may be willing to buy an autonomous vehicle — there’s a lot riding on drivers’ perceptions

Will cars be smarter than people? Many consumers think so. In fact, a majority of consumers say that the technology within an autonomous car is probably smarter than the average driver. In addition to smarter and safer driving, providing better transportation for the elderly, easier long-distance travel, and the ability to be more productive while in the car are also perceived to be some of the top advantages.

While there may a lot of buzz around the vehicle of tomorrow, consumers are not entirely sold on the idea of giving up control behind the wheel. 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, more than half of consumers say they are scared of self-driving cars; a slightly higher number believe that autonomous cars are dangerous; and more than a quarter fear they are susceptible to hacking.

Trust factors, too, in consumers’ receptivity to brands. Although consumers consistently express openness to Technology brands when it comes to in-car technology, established automotive brands seem to have an edge when it comes to “excitement” about autonomous cars. Traditional automakers appear to be leading the way, but newcomers and even nontraditional makers, hold some appeal. It remains to be seen who will race ahead as consumers become more comfortable with the concept of autonomous vehicles.

Language has role to play, too. While 95 percent of consumers told us they had heard of at least one of the terms commonly used to describe autonomous vehicles (“driverless cars,” “robotic cars,” or “self-driving cars”), only 32 percent said they had heard the term “autonomous vehicle.” Companies need a compelling way to talk about these emerging technologies so that consumers will understand the concepts behind them and respond positively to company messages.

Other emerging automotive technologies may help steer consumers toward adoption of self-driving cars. In-car technologies, such as driver override systems (brakes that automatically engage in the case of an emergency) may be a good way to gradually introduce consumers to the idea of autonomous vehicles. Some of these technologies are now widely accepted and are likely to be more associated with safety.

Ridesharing, which is fast gaining traction especially among millennials, is another way to make customers aware of the benefits of self-driving cars and win over early adopters. Both Uber and Lyft are introducing fully autonomous vehicles to their fleets, which will help seed the marketplace and allow drivers to sample the technology before committing.

It is unknown when self-driving cars will arrive in mass, and how consumers will make the journey from awareness to adoption is anything but certain. The pace of change and who will dominate the marketplace depends on how quickly consumers can come to terms with a future that may seem confusing or perhaps even daunting, and how well companies can make them understand that these technologies are as safe and practical as they are exciting and full of life-changing benefits.

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The full research is available at