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J.D. Power: Self-Driving Cars Concern Consumers

By: Bridget Clerkin April 26, 2017
Autonomous vehicles may be on the way--but buyers are still hesitant about the technology.

How do you feel about robots? And, more specifically, would you trust one?

It may sound crazy, but to some extent, these questions can help pinpoint how old you are—or at least, give a good idea of the generation you belong in.

Distrust in the idea of a fully self-driving car—essentially a vehicle-shaped robot to cart you around town—is sharply on the rise, according to a recent study conducted by automotive ratings agency J.D. Power.

But the research found one anomaly: Participants born between 1977 and 1994—which the survey referred to as members of Generation Y—registered no change in how they felt about the burgeoning technology.

The survey compares consumers’ feelings to last year, when J.D. Power asked the same questions to gauge the public response to the burgeoning self-driving industry.

Between the two analyses, members of Generation Z—defined in the study as those born between 1995 and 2004—were 11% more likely to say they “definitely would not trust a self-driving car, bringing the total to 22% of respondents. For their part, Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—balked at the idea a whopping 81% of the time—a 9% increase from last year’s survey.

An additional 23% of Gen Z’ers reported they “probably would not” trust the technology, and 40% of Boomers said they saw “no benefits” to self-driving vehicles, listing “possible technology failures/errors” as their biggest concern.

Members of Generation Z—defined as those born between 1995 and 2004—were 11% more likely to say they “definitely would not trust a self-driving car.

That’s likely bad news for the industry—which just saw tech giant Apple throw its hat into the ring—and the federal government, which has repeatedly touted the accident-stopping and life-saving potential of self-driving vehicles while opening up lanes to fast-track the development of the technology.

Why Generation Y has had no crisis of faith was unclear based on the findings, but experts consulted by J.D. Power posited that the others may have been shaken by widespread reports of accidents involving self-driving vehicles—including the recent crash of an Uber test model in Arizona—and the general fear of allowing a robot to decide who could live or die in a car crash.

Or it could possibly be that the embrace of such new ideas will be incremental. Indeed, analysis suggests that the tide of public opinion may be turning for the technology—albeit slowly.

When it came to a number of different semiautonomous features, the survey’s youngest two generations showed comfort levels hovering around 50%. And a full 31% of the nearly 8,500 respondents said they would pay good money—up to $700—for advanced features such as emergency braking and steering.

Still, it seems the future of driving will look different regardless, with Generation Z much more likely to embrace the idea of sharing rides, according to the survey. Whether those journeys will be chauffeured by humans or robots remains unclear, but either way, it seems clear that driving for the mere thrill of it has become an obsolete idea.

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