UK remains unconvinced by global robocab trend

25 April 2018 6 min. read
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New research shows customers in the automotive industry are open to the use of new mobility offerings, opened up by the advance of autonomous vehicle technology. While the bulk of Europe and Asia seem increasingly welcoming to the concept of robocabs, however, the UK is one of a minority of leading nations which remains distrustful of the fledgling transport method.

Autonomous vehicles are projected to provide considerable benefits to the wider transportation ecosystem. Various studies project that the technology will outperform humans in terms of safety in most environments, while reducing problems with idle vehicles, inner city space and congestion. The technology combines with various other trends in the automotive industry, from a shift to EV vehicles, to car connectivity.

The technology remains in the initial stage of development, with various test programmes in operation but still around a decade from projected on-road rollout – assuming there are no serious design flaws. While from a business perspective there are various avenues to generate revenue pools, users remain a key variable in the wider adoption of the technology. A new study from Roland Berger, asks 13,000 car users in 13 countries about their willingness to engage with robotic driving, in a variety of contexts.

Automotive market shifts

While car ownership has been a right of passage for many in Western countries since the birth of the automobile, the research shows that improved public transport and changing attitudes are already impacting the preference of users across the West, as well as developing Asia. In Western Europe, for instance, when respondents were asked how many people they know that did not and don’t want to buy a car because they exclusively use other mobility concepts (e.g., car sharing, public transport, taxi, etc.), 50% could identify at least one. In China the number of respondents that could identify at least one increased to 75%, with a similar number in India. The US, however, was more car dependent, with 30% citing at least one.

Asia most keen

When asked about their current mobility form, respondents in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are focused on public transport and private vehicle use. Singapore has the heaviest focus on public transport (55% of travelled kilometres), in part reflecting the layout of the country, followed by South Korea (45%). China and India too are heavily focused on public transport, while alternative mobility options (car sharing, ride hailing, taxi) are relatively heavily frequented in terms of kilometres travelled, at 20% and 25% respectively. 

Share of potential robocab users

Robocabs, effectively driverless taxis, are one possible application for autonomous vehicles. These taxis could, given their relatively high efficiency, provide low-cost travel in a variety of contexts – particularly in areas in which public transport and human locomotion, such as biking, are less practical. When asked whether the respondents would use a mobility service based on a fully autonomous robocab, Chinese and Indian respondents were the most enthusiastic, at 80% of the respondents from the respective categories saying yes. In Europe, 45% of respondents concurred, while in the US, 35% of respondents said yes – with the key reasons for not doing so among all respondents, the pleasure of driving (35%).

The study also considered other elements of the wider changes in the automotive industry: connectivity and electrification. Connectivity in part, extends into the wider car purchase journey, whereby acquisition, from research to actually buying behaviour, has shifted online in recent years. To gain deeper insight in the shift, the firm asked whether the respondent will use the internet in the car buying process. The survey finding that the use of online resources in the car purchase journey in Europe has increased from 10% one year ago to 15% in the latest survey, while in China the same number, 25% of respondents in both surveys, said yes. South Korea noted the most significant change, up 15 percentage points to 20% in the latest survey.

Online and EV car share

The appetite for electric vehicles has also increased in a range of jurisdictions. In Western Europe, interest has increased by 5 percentage points to 35%, with a similar increase in China to 65% of respondents. In India, interest has swelled by 20 percentage points to 70% of the total market. Singapore and South Korea saw small declines, of 5 percentage points each. The US remained steady at 20% of those surveyed.

UK trust issues

In line with a number of Western European countries, Britain remains reserved on the potential of automated vehicles. While the UK is using new methods to sell vehicles – leading the way in online car sales, with an increasing number of manufacturers offering the service – these sales remain focused on traditional vehicles. People in the UK remain unconvinced by electric vehicles, and only 20% of consumers polled in Britain said they are considering buying one – perhaps reflecting the distant 2040 implementation of the UK’s ban on the sale of new combustion engine vehicles.

On top of this, while for the first time in Roland Berger’s barometer, a global majority of 55% said they would use an automated taxi, the UK was also one of only four countries polled which still have a majority against their use – showing just how entrenched the UK’s hostility to ‘robocars’ and ‘robocabs’ still is. The other three countries to stand against the technology were the USA – where the technology recently made the wrong kind of headlines, killing a pedestrian during tests in Arizona – the Netherlands and Japan.