TROY, Mich. — Consumer confidence in vehicle mobility technologies lags far behind auto makers' plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to the marketplace, according to the J.D. Power 2020 Q1 Mobility Confidence Index Study.
The survey, conducted through SurveyMonkey Audience, shows interest in self-driving vehicles decreasing for the first time since J.D. Power starting tracking the sector — to 35 from 36 on a 100-point scale — for American consumers and to 36 from 39 for Canadian consumers.
For battery-electric vehicles, the index remains at 55 in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive quarter, while decreasing to 57 from 59 in Canada.
"Frankly, we're concerned for auto makers," Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface research at J.D. Power, said.
"They're pushing forward with technology that consumers seem to have little interest in, nor are they making the strides needed to change people's minds," she said.
"Especially now, auto makers need to reevaluate where they're spending money. They are investing billions in these technologies, but they need to also invest in educating consumers. Lack of knowledge is a huge roadblock for future adoption."
The quarterly study gauges acceptance for self-driving and battery-electric vehicles, as seen through the eyes of consumers and industry experts.
J.D. Power worked with SurveyMonkey Inc. on the study, which contains opinions from over 8,500 consumers and industry experts about self-driving vehicles and over 8,000 about battery-electric vehicles. The survey was fielded in March before most pandemic-necessary stay-at-home orders went into effect.
Among the survey findings:
- Consumers don't believe the technology or society is ready: Technology failure or error remains the top concern about self-driving technology in both countries, with Canadians being even more worried about it (75% versus 67% in the U.S.).
American and Canadian consumers also are worried about the law of unintended consequences — such as creating a lazy society dependent on technology and with diminished driving skills — that will come about as a result of self-driving vehicles, the survey shows.
- Uncertainty about the timeframe for public availability: Experts anticipate self-driving delivery services will be available in the next four years, but their predictions for self-driving vehicles available for consumer purchase has jumped out to 18 years, five years later than predicted in the 2019 fourth-quarter study.
- Changing needs post-COVID-19: Experts anticipate that consumer needs for mobility may shift even after life returns closer to normal. The coronavirus outbreak may steer some people away from shared transportation toward more use of private vehicles, which in turn may spur higher levels of automation. It may also give a boost to self-driving delivery services as consumers look for ways to minimize social contact.
Ms. Kolodge noted that "auto makers continue to encounter technical hurdles in their quest to achieve reliable self-driving personal vehicles. Coupled with consumer sentiment about the technology, there's still a very long road ahead."
Regarding battery-electric vehicles:
- Few consumers have any experience with battery-electric vehicles: About 70% of U.S. respondents said they had never been in a battery-electric vehicle and 30% said they know nothing about them. About 67% of Canadian respondents had never been in a battery-electric vehicle but only 19% said they knew nothing about them.
- Previous ownership doesn't guarantee future purchases: While 29% of U.S. consumers and 31% of Canadian consumers expressed some likelihood about purchasing an EV in the next four years, almost the same amount have no intention to purchase one. Some who have previously owned a battery-electric vehicle won't buy again due to high maintenance costs, purchase price, limited range and performance in extreme weather.
- Perpetual barriers remain: Charging station availability, driving range and purchase price are the top three barriers to battery-electric vehicles as perceived by U.S. and Canadian respondents. These were the same top three barriers in 1997 when J.D. Power studied consumer interest in electric vehicles.
- Vehicle technology and infrastructure availability have progressed dramatically in 23 years, but consumers have not budged in their perception, the research firm said, noting that even those who have owned a battery-electric vehicle previously have these items as their top three barriers.
"The marginal short-term shifts in consumer sentiment toward self-driving vehicles only show we're yet to see the lasting implications of the current crisis on consumer preferences," Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey, said.
"But we know big changes are ahead, as physical distancing will shake virtually every major industry, including automotive and how we get around. These surveys will give us a glimpse of that future as new consumer preferences form and stick."