Report: Consumer Confidence Drops on Future Mobility, Expected to Evolve Due to COVID-19

Consumer confidence in future mobility technologies lags behind automakers’ plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to the marketplace, according to the J.D. Power 2020 Q1 Mobility Confidence Index Study, which was released Tuesday.
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Consumer confidence in future mobility technology has decreased, according to J.D. Power. // Stock photo

Consumer confidence in future mobility technologies lags behind automakers’ plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to the marketplace, according to the J.D. Power 2020 Q1 Mobility Confidence Index Study, which was released Tuesday.

The index has decreased for the first time, from 36 to 35 on a 100-point scale for American consumers and from 39 to 36 for Canadian consumers. For battery-electric vehicles, the index remains at 55 in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive quarter while decreasing from 59 to 57 in Canada.

“Frankly, we’re concerned for automakers,” says Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface research at J.D. Power. “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. Especially now, automakers 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 measures market readiness and acceptance for self-driving and battery-electric vehicles as seen through the eyes of consumers and industry experts. The 2020 first quarter study includes insights from the U.S. and Canada. J.D. Power partnered with SurveyMonkey to conduct the study, in which more than 8,500 consumers and industry experts gave their opinions about self-driving vehicles as well as more than 8,000 about battery-electric vehicles. The survey was fielded in March before most of the stay home orders went into effect.

Consumers don’t believe that the technology or their societies are ready for self-driving cars. Technology failure or error remains the top concern, with 75 percent of Canadians and 67 percent of Americans expressing it. Canada’s climate and mountainous terrain present a challenge.

“Not practical in Canada where there is snow and messy roads,” one consumer commented. “The cameras required cannot see clearly at all times as would be necessary for them to work properly and safely in this climate. I’m basing my statements on the automation in our own car that only works occasionally when the roads are dirty due to camera filth.”

Consumers are also worried about the law of unintended consequences that will come about as a result of self-driving vehicles. They also have concerns about creating a lazy society dependent on technology with diminished driving skills.

Experts anticipate self-driving delivery services will be available in the next four years. However, their predictions for self-driving vehicles available for consumer purchase has jumped to 18 years, five more years than predicted in the 2019 fourth quarter study.

Experts also think consumer needs for mobility will shift after life returns to normal.

“Coronavirus outbreak may steer some people away from shared transportation toward more private vehicle ownership, and some of these private vehicles may evolve from sophisticated ADAS to higher levels of automation,” one expert said.

Self-driving delivery services may arrive at a time when consumers are looking to minimize social contact.

“The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recently approved Nuro to test its driverless delivery vehicles on public roads in California, which accelerates the feasibility of self-driving delivery coming to market,” Kolodge says. “However, automakers 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.”

The majority of American respondents (70 percent) have never been in a battery-electric vehicle, and 30 percent say they know nothing about them. Of the Canadian respondents, 67 percent have never been in one, but only 19 percent say they know nothing about them.

“I like the idea of an electric powered vehicle, but at what cost?” one consumer commented. “Once the batteries need replacement, how expensive are they? How do old electric car batteries affect the environment? Are they able to be recycled, or will they make the landfills even more toxic? Would I get an electric solar powered car? Yes. But wouldn’t they also need batteries and then be in the same situation?”

Previous ownership also does not guarantee future purchases. While 29 percent of Americans and 31 percent of Canadian consumers express some likelihood to purchase an electric vehicle 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.

“Absolute hoax, does not provide enough heat to clear windows in cold weather,” one consumer said. “Car is cold to ride in in the winter.”

Charging station availability, driving range, and purchase price were listed as the top three barriers to battery-electric vehicles. These were also the top three barriers in 1997 when J.D. Power studied consumer interest in electric vehicles when the GM EV1 was launching. Vehicle technology and infrastructure availability have progressed dramatically in 23 years, but consumers have not changed in their perception. 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’ve yet to see the lasting implications of the current crisis on consumer preferences,” says Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. “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.”

J.D. Power is based in Troy. It was established in 1968 and has offices serving North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe.

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