COSTA MESA, Calif. — As auto makers spend billions developing autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), a new J.D. Power/SurveyMonkey study suggests the industry has its work cut out for it in terms of consumer confidence.
The first J.D. Power Mobility Confidence Index Study found consumers have a low level of comfort about the future of self-driving vehicles, posting a confidence index of 36 on a 100-point scale, and middling confidence in battery-electric vehicles, with an index of 55.
Consumer confidence was lowest when it came to comfort riding in self-driving vehicles, scoring 34, and comfort being on the road with others using self-driving vehicles, scoring 35.
Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface research at J.D. Power, said the low confidence level was driven by lack of education on self-driving vehicles and the fact that it may not be what consumers want.
The study found the majority of consumers surveyed, 66%, admitted to having little or no knowledge about autonomous vehicles.
Consumers also held serious skepticism over the reliability of self-driving vehicles, especially when it came to autonomous technologies and occupant safety, according to the study. About 71% of consumers were worried about technology failures and errors, while about 57% were concerned with vehicle hackers.
Additionally, about 55% of consumers had legal-liability concerns over self-driving collisions. Ms. Kolodge said the industry's message of developing safer solutions with autonomous technology to reduce the number of accidents caused by human error isn't being picked up by many consumers as an advantage.
"Consumer education will be a critical step that can't be short-changed by the industry, and by industry I mean the entire ecosystem of manufacturers, suppliers, government and regulatory bodies, insurance agencies, the media and more," she said.
Electric vehicle index
Consumers have a more neutral position on their confidence in the future of electric vehicles, and the majority of consumers, regardless of age, recognized the positive environmental effects of battery-powered vehicles, according to the study.
Two-thirds of consumers have no experience with EVs, and only 25% say they are likely to lease or buy one, J.D. Power said. Convenience was a primary driver behind consumers' negative perception of battery-electric vehicles.
The majority of consumers, 64%, viewed charging station availability as the biggest disadvantage of EVs, followed by driving range, at 59%. Price was a concern to 54% of consumers, though 78% said that tax subsidies or credits would factor into their purchase decision of a battery-electric vehicle.
There's a realization among experts surveyed that self-driving technology is harder to perfect and commercialize than expected, J.D. Power said, and two of the biggest challenges include technical feasibility and customer trust and acceptance. Industry experts and consumers surveyed predicted it would take a decade or more — 12 years and 10 years, respectively — before autonomous vehicles were available to the the public for purchase.
Experts and consumers differed on when autonomous vehicle services — public transit, delivery and ride-hailing—would hit the market, with experts saying five to six years and consumers closer to 10.
The study found experts forecast it will be at least five years until EVs achieve a market share of 10%.
About 59% of industry experts said they agree that tax credits and subsidies will continue to influence consumer purchase decisions, J.D. Power said. In addition to consumer affordability and trust, experts view infrastructure and battery concerns — cost, range, supply capacity—as the critical challenges for battery-electric vehicles that need to be addressed.
"Trust has always been a constant element," Ms. Kolodge said. "I see this equal playing ground where consumers are calling out trust issues for both self-driving vehicles and battery-electric vehicles as well as experts recognizing how important trust is, whereas I was surprised to see this information about the timeframe of these vehicles.
"I felt like it was a bit of a reality check from both parties because, up until now, much of the marketing hype has been about how these transportation solutions are going to come fast and that we need to watch out because everything is going to come out fast."
Ms. Kolodge added: "But the results showed that both consumers and experts are at a more cautious level of responsibility that, yes, these transportation solutions are coming, but they are not necessarily coming tomorrow."
J.D. Power and SurveyMonkey polled 5,749 consumers about self-driving vehicles and 5,270 about battery-electric vehicles from June 24 through July 2. Sentiment is segmented into three categories: low (0-40), neutral (41-60) and positive (61-100)
Editor's note: Automotive News mobility editor Leslie J. Allen and reporter Pete Bigelow participated in the survey but were not involved in the writing and editing of this story.